Governor talks economic development with county, regional business leaders
With an audience of about 20 Moffat County residents and officials Wednesday afternoon, Gov. John Hickenlooper talked about motives behind his bottom-up economic development plan.
“I don’t think any other state has ever tried to do this,” he said. “I think about it almost like a garden, that we’re trying to get all the ideas to come up naturally, without us coursing them.”
His conversation with the group was part of a regional meeting Wednesday regarding economic development planning at The Center of Craig.
The state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade hosted, and attendees also included officials, residents and business leaders from Mesa, Routt, Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.
Representatives from the five counties started the meeting together with presentations from OEDIT Executive Director Dwayne Romero and Tony Hernandez, director of the Department of Local Affairs’ division of local government.
The meeting then broke into meetings by county to fill out a regional survey, which allowed participants to have a discussion with Hickenlooper about the plan.
Wednesday was the second regional meeting on the topic for the five counties so far.
During his presentation, Romero took a plastic, star-topped “magic wand” that he said belongs to his 5-year-old daughter, and placed it in a stand at the front of the room.
“It’s a really good symbol for, I think, what’s the good news for what we have in front of us, but also the struggle,” he said. “Clearly, we don’t have a lot of resources as a state, and, in fact, which state does?
“What we do have, beyond the limited tools you have as economic development professionals, is this personal energy and this enthusiasm that I personally believe is contagious across the state.”
Once county representatives broke into separate meetings, they were tasked with answering a series of questions related to business development, including what they believe are hindrances from federal and state programs, or initiatives that are possibly preventing economic development progress.
Those at the table brought up issues such as Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act, air quality regulation, and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission acting without local input.
Gene Bilodeau, vice president of administration at Colorado Northwestern Community College, raised concerns about education funding.
“If it keeps going this direction, we’re going to find people choosing not to come here even though there’s a great quality of life because they’re concerned about quality of education,” he said.
There was also discussion on what small businesses in the region need but lack, and what can be done to retain current businesses.
Among the points Hickenlooper touched on during his conversation was road funding, which he believes will become increasingly critical in the future.
“In two years, we’re going to have a ton of new vehicles coming out that are much more fuel efficient,” he said. “Everyone’s going to be using less gasoline and if we use less gasoline, that means we have less gas tax (revenue) which means less money for our roads.
“I don’t think you want Denver coming in and telling you, ‘Here’s how we should fund our roads and bridges.’ I think it should be you. You all should be figuring out what we need to fund. Same thing with higher ed and K-12 education.”
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UPDATE: The West Fire is now burning 2,403 acres Monday afternoon, after only about 700 acres were burning late Monday morning.