Gov. Hickenlooper touts economic development during Hayden appearance
Gov. John Hickenlooper said Colorado is known for its mountains, reliable sunshine and enviable outdoor lifestyle.
“But, it’s also a place of innovation,” the governor said.
Hickenlooper’s statement served as the crux for a Friday gathering at Yampa Valley Feeds in Hayden.
The Hayden event featured presentations by the governor, regional business owners, a City of Steamboat Springs official and a Moffat County Commissioner.
Hickenlooper used the event as a platform to introduce “Colorado Blueprint: A bottom-up approach to economic development,” an outline of steps designed to encourage and support economic development throughout the state.
Hickenlooper said the blueprint attempts to answer the question, “How do we become a more pro-business environment?” The first-year governor also said the economic development plan is unique.
He said state officials traveled Colorado and conducted 55 community meetings to discuss matters of business and workforce, and how the state could create a more nurturing environment for businesses. More than 5,000 people attended those meetings, and an additional 8,000 people submitted comments over the Internet.
“This is something I don’t think any other state has done — to go out and ask every county to take time and figure out what you want your economy to look like in 20 years or 40 years and what will it take to get there,” the governor said.
Hickenlooper said three issues were commonly discussed at the community meetings: broadband, workforce training and red tape.
Red tape is of particular concern, he said.
“We recognize we need appropriate regulation,” the governor said. “We’re not saying we’re going to get rid of regulation. What we’re going to get rid of is the red tape.”
Regarding workforce training, Hickenlooper said the answer will focus on Colorado youth.
“We have lots of jobs that are coming on line that kids aren’t trained for,” he said. “We need to make sure our education system is giving us workers.”
Next, Hickenlooper pledged to bolster broadband service throughout the state to help level the playing field among communities.
“All towns have the same right to attract businesses,” he said.
Before Hickenlooper’s presentation, several regional officials and business owners spoke about current economic developments in Northwest Colorado.
Philo Shelton, public works director for the City of Steamboat Springs, provided an overview of the town’s economy, particularly outdoor product manufacturers such as Moots Cycles and Big Agnes, and recent developments with Smartwool.
“The City of Steamboat Springs is most proud of our partnership with Smartwool since 2002,” Shelton said. “This year, we have negotiated a new long-term office lease with Smartwool that not only keeps the employees here in Steamboat, it allows for expansion over the next 10 to 15 years.”
Next, Rob Mitchell, president of Steamboat-based Moots Cycles, shared an overview of his company’s history.
Moots, he said, started in Steamboat Springs more than 30 years ago and still maintains 100 percent of its manufacturing in the city.
Moffat County Commissioner Audrey Danner provided an overview of the Craig Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project, an $11 million study funded by the Department of Energy.
State geologic survey departments in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah lead the project, which is funded by several companies including Tri-State Generation & Transmission.
Danner said the three-year project seeks to study the viability of storing carbon dioxide in underground rock formations.
Darcy Owens-Trask, director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, touted Craig businesses Yampa Geo, Brother’s Custom Processing, The Memorial Hospital and Colorado Northwestern Comm-
unity College and more for innovations and expansions.
Owens-Trask said Yampa Geo owner Josh Lowe underlines the importance of broadband in small towns.
“He saw a niche in Northwest Colorado and recognized that technology would allow him to serve clients all over the world without having to relocate his family,” she said of Lowe.
From an office in Craig, Yampa Geo serves clients in Kansas, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and elsewhere.
Coal, climate change
After Hickenlooper’s speech, the governor opened the discussion to audience members.
The conversation quickly moved to the coal industry and potential regulations.
Routt County resident Chuck McConnell commented on the importance of coal to local economies, and recent state regulations on emissions.
“It’s not a friendly atmosphere here in Colorado for (coal),” McConnell said. “Could you speak to that, and maybe lighten up on coal?”
Hickenlooper said he has no intention to harm the industry.
“I believe in all the forms of energy,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to have a balanced approach to energy.”
Nonetheless, climate change cannot be ignored, he said.
“We know for a fact that as we put more … climate gasses into the atmosphere, more of the heat from the sun stays in our ecosystem,” he said.
The trick to keeping coal viable, he said, is research.
“(Coal) is the simple, most obvious solution to our energy needs, if we can find a way to burn it clean,” Hickenlooper said. “You have one of the cleanest coal plants that there is right up there on the hill.
“As clean as it is, it’s not good enough. We’ve got to cut those climate emissions by another 50 percent.”
Craig resident Matt Winey also addressed the governor.
Winey, a coal miner, contends climate science is dubious, that carbon dioxide is naturally occurring and any human contributions of CO2 are nominal.
Hickenlooper said science isn’t always perfect, and sometimes the beliefs of the scientific community shift over time.
“I don’t bring it up to say that anybody is trying to pull a hoax on anybody,” he said. “An awful lot of really smart people — and these are not people that have an axe to grind — believe that a significant part of (greenhouse gasses) are coming from mankind’s activities.
“They fight over how much it is, but they take it seriously.”
Hickenlooper said he’s not qualified to enter the climate debate, but contends it’s wise to prepare.
“People say, ‘Is climate change a hoax? Why are we spending all this money to learn how to burn clean coal?’ That’s because we don’t know. We’re buying insurance,” he said.
“As a society — as mankind — we’d be fools not to.”