As of December 2020, Colorado had the fourth-highest unemployment level in the nation, with only Hawaii, Nevada and California having a worse rate. This is a far cry from early in 2020 when the state had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
Clearly COVID-19 has been the main culprit, but our economy will not magically come back even after that crisis ebbs. Many businesses have closed and won’t reopen while others have restructured and downsized their staffing.
On top of this, working from home will continue for many after COVID ends, which will affect many businesses in downtown areas that have depended on commuters for much of their business during workdays.
The challenge facing Gov. Jared Polis and the legislature is how they can jump-start our state’s economy and help it recover as quickly as possible, so we don’t lose key workers and businesses to other states.
The General Assembly has already indicated that economic recovery from the damage caused by COVID will be at the top of its priority list. In crafting an economic recovery plan, the legislature must ensure that such a plan serves and benefits all areas of the state.
While there is no magic wand that can be waved over the state, there are some tried-and-true measures that can make a difference and help our state recover sooner.
Traditionally, one of the best and fastest ways to bounce back from recessions or even the Great Depression in the 1930s has been investing in the transportation infrastructure. Such a program creates good-paying, skilled jobs and has a multiplier effect that ripples through the entire economy increasing business activity and adding jobs that support this effort.
The jobs and skills acquired during these programs go beyond the projects and work under such a program. They translate into careers for individuals that not only provide them with good-paying positions but also go a long way to address the critical shortfall anticipated for these positions in the future.
The beauty of investing in a state transportation infrastructure program such as the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 10-Year Plan is that it generates economic opportunity throughout the state rather than in only limited areas.
The 10-Year Plan includes state highway and bridge projects that have been long overdue for maintenance or improvement that span the state and would create jobs in every region.
Further, these improvements to the infrastructure have the added benefit of enhancing the competitiveness of businesses in those areas through greater access and reduced travel time and costs. The average citizen benefits from these improvements because they spend less time in traffic and spend less of their hard-earned dollars on vehicle operating and repair costs.
Because of our state’s inability to adequately maintain our roadways and bridges due to a lack of funding, car owners pay a “hidden tax” associated with higher maintenance and repair costs averaging $651 per year.
In the 2021 session of the General Assembly, both the governor and leaders of both parties have spoken of the need for additional transportation funding to address our current and future needs. While some may question whether the state should embark on such an effort at this time when state revenues are down, the consequences and costs of not doing so are much greater.
Another year during which the state legislature fails to act will leave Colorado further behind in competing for business and jobs, while states like Utah, which has made a commitment to its transportation system, race further ahead. Further, history has shown that infrastructure investment is a tried-and-true strategy that has allowed state and national economies to recover in a shorter timeframe.
For those individuals out of work and our businesses across the state that are struggling to survive, a substantial commitment to our infrastructure would represent a desperately-needed lifeline and send a message that Colorado won’t be left behind in competing for jobs and business.
Walt Sanders is the president of RMT Companies, a Colorado-based transload and trucking company. He is also the vice chairman of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, who represent over 650 companies involved in the state’s trucking industry.
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