Too many eggs in energy basket 
for local economic development?

“There are as many opinions as there are experts.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt

I don’t profess to be an expert at anything. Some have heard me talk about the three stages of learning.  I’m somewhere along that progression of first having all the answers, second knowing all the questions and finally, learning which questions deserve answers.

But that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion on many matters. In fact, for almost a decade now, I’ve been paid to foist those opinions, occasionally appreciated but sometimes not, on local readers. And, once in a while, treading on some shaky ground while doing so.

This is one of those times.

Readers who frequent this page know that along the bottom is a listing of the pecking order at The Daily Sentinel. At the top is Jay Seaton, publisher. 

Students of various civic efforts are also aware of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The name at the top of the GJEP organizational chart currently is that of Jay Seaton, chairman.

So, it’s not without some trepidation that today’s column is about local economic development efforts. The little voice on my shoulder, the muse as the late Denver columnist Gene Amole used to call her, has failed to dissuade me from putting down my thoughts after hearing a presentation by GJEP’s Kelly Flenniken to the Grand Junction Lions Club last week.

I’d just moved back to my hometown as the partnership’s predecessor, the Mesa County Economic Development Council, was taking its baby steps nearly 30 years ago. Birthed in the aftermath of “Black Sunday,” MCEDC was formed by local private-sector business leaders to rebuild the county’s economy after the overnight devastation caused by the oil shale bust. 

Several years later, I was part of that effort as one of the representatives of the local governments engaged in that private-public partnership. Down the road a bit, I became part of the push to consolidate various local economic development efforts that prompted the eventual formation of GJEP. I later served on the Colorado Economic Development Commission.

All that’s in the past now, offered only to provide some context to my question of Flenniken as she finished outlining GJEP’s mission and strategies, which include a primary focus on the energy industry.

Are we, I asked while recalling the history of local economic development and efforts to diversify Mesa County’s economy, once again putting too many of our eggs in one basket?

I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s a worthwhile question.

Certainly, the energy sector can’t be ignored. We’re awash in natural resources to tap. The concurrent efforts to find a place for alternatives and renewables are smart extensions that could bode well for the future. 

But it’s also true, I submit, that one factor in our slower recovery from the most recent economic downturn might be taking our eye off the diversification ball while we were busy picking the low-hanging fruit of the boom that ended about five years ago.

There’s an ephemeral nature to the development of conventional energy resources. When the stars align, when prices and demand are high and the critical mass of people and equipment are in place, it’s great. When prices drop to half or a third of their peak, when per capita demand diminishes because our cars get better mileage and we drive less or our homes are better built and insulated, when cheaper and easier to produce resources are found elsewhere — well, we know how that works out.

It’s also true that we’ve had our setbacks elsewhere in the economic spectrum. Reynolds Polymer was a home run. Sunstrand and others left runners on base

Here’s the takeaway from my personal experiences in economic development.

One question that deserves an answer is whether we are putting too many of our eggs in one basket and should place more emphasis on economic diversity.

“We’ve had the beaver trade and the buffalo hunters, the gold and silver and copper mines, the homesteaders, boom times in lumber and petroleum, and each time we’ve ended up busted and looking for another way home.” — William Kittredge, “White People in Paradise/The Next Rodeo”

 

Jim Spehar is happy The Daily Sentinel and its publisher appreciate and seek out a variety of editorial page opinions. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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COMMENTS

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Jim, it is a question worth answering. Strong economies are diverse economies. We should be growing local businesses and recruiting businesses that give us employment out side of the boom and bust cycle of extractive industries. We need diversity, not more oil and gas.

There are numerous opportunities in the Grand Valley for business to prosper.  The expansion of West Star could be huge in that it will make it easier for transport than our current air service.  Plenty of space to build, remodel, resources for support, and community support for well run businesses.

We should have learned long ago the oil and gas business will run in cycles and always break our hearts.  The issue now will be environmental impact and water supplies.

Great point Jim, hope you have some readers and listeners.

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