People keep coming more by choice than by chance

“I Guess I’d Rather Be in Colorado” — Bill Danoff, Starland Vocal Band

I’ve never been much of a John Denver fan, though I enjoy hearing something from him once in a while. For instance, there’s Bill Danoff’s song mentioned above, recorded by Denver on his “Poems, Prayers and Promises” album back when I was more interested in the edgier stuff being performed by Texas singer-songwriters and my musician brothers.

When Danoff wrote, “I Guess I’d Rather Be In Colorado” decades ago, I can’t imagine he had jobs, unemployment rates or economic development in mind.  But, for some reason I’m still trying to decipher, his ode to my home state came immediately to mind when I read the story in The Daily Sentinel about folks still migrating to our state, despite the continuing decline in available jobs.

Denver’s album came out in 1971. A year later, after chucking promising career starts in Arizona, putting our house in Tempe on the market, stashing what we wanted to keep in a storage unit, and wandering around a good deal of Europe in a stripped-out VW bus until we ran out of money, Bonnie and I were trying to figure out where a jobless young couple with about $140 bucks and a nearly maxed-out American Express card might make a fresh start.

We guessed we’d rather be back in Colorado.

We had a lot of company back then and, apparently, would now if our personal history could repeat itself. In the early 1970s and now, four decades later, thousands of folks think Colorado is a great place to chase their dreams and make a new life.

The number of people moving to Colorado is booming, far outpacing the number of jobs created in the state, according to the Associated Press story.  We’re expected to add 10,000 to 20,000 jobs to the Colorado economy this year. Our state’s population is expected to swell by 85,000 residents. Colorado gained about 145,000 new residents from 2008 through 2010, while losing 130,000 jobs.

Economists profess to be stumped about why folks would move here with declining job prospects. That’s because they’re obsessed with numbers and logic. Those of us with broader interests understand. Weather, outdoor recreation and scenery all combine to lure people here.

“The best people,” a former governor I worked for was fond of saying, “come to the best places.”

Our first days back in our home state were spent in a basement apartment on Capitol Hill. Our job searches were done wearing “Arizona clothes” in sub-freezing weather, mostly on foot because our car refused to start. Not once did we consider heading back to desert vistas and orange blossoms, although the “she ” in that “we” might have done so on occasion since then.

The teacher quickly found a career. The long-haired reporter she’d married found a series of jobs that included writing for the Associated Press, television news, promoting concerts, selling AP news services, owning radio stations, local politics and state government, consulting work, even a newspaper column.

Along the way, there were chances to take those skills elsewhere.

Why would I do that? I remember telling the Associated Press vice president I worked for on one of several occasions when the powers that be tried to move me elsewhere, “I’d be working 50 weeks a year to spend the other two weeks in Colorado and now I’m here all the time.”

He finally quit asking, convinced we’d rather be in Colorado.

Some of my time over the past four decades here in the state that my grandparents and great-grandparents immigrated to in the 1880s has been spent in local and state economic development efforts, including a couple of years on the Colorado Economic Development Commission. Additional years have been spent traveling the state as part of a “Smart Growth” project and facilitating job development efforts.

Those experiences reinforced my own feeling that the choice of where you live is made more with the heart than the head. The trick, I’ve come to believe, is to match the variety in Colorado’s scenery with a variety of career opportunities, to not put all our eggs in one basket, whatever that “industry du jour” might be at any given time.

If we do that, Colorado will always be a magnet, a land of opportunity that attracts “the best people” to “the best place.”

Jim Spehar is a Grand Junction native who enjoys being a Coloradan both by chance and by choice. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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