A glass half full or half empty?
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”
– Rolling Stones
You’ve already seen some analysis of last week’s municipal election. Several theories abide as to why the events center ballot issue earned not just a ‘no’ but a resounding “Hell no.” Here’s my take.
First, it’s absolutely ridiculous to say “our community is dying,” that we’re “a retirement community that is not progressive, that is not growing, and is stagnant.” That’s the sour grapes post mortem offered in a letter to the editor Sunday from events center cheerleader Mike Anton. Ironically, my friend Mike has managed to build and operate a successful business and create a good life for his family in our backwards little burg despite the lack of an events center. His is a success story I imagine he’ll continue even without access to minor league hockey and some other occasional events we’ll somehow muddle through without.
A “stagnant” community wouldn’t be home to an ever-expanding Colorado Mesa University, one of the true higher education success stories in Colorado if not the entire western United States. A “dying” community wouldn’t host businesses making worldwide names for themselves such as Reynolds Polymer, Leitner-Poma and West Star Aviation.
It wouldn’t demonstrate the progressive leadership that forged the partnerships that expanded Stocker Stadium and Suplizio Field, leading to the long-term commitment to host JUCO. It wouldn’t be home to young entrepreneurs like Nick and Avery Santos at Café Sol or Josh and Jodi Niernberg at their downtown restaurants, Thaddeus and Sarah Shrader at Bonsai Design and Josh Hudnall and Brian Watson at The Factory; all beginning a fresh generation of locally owned businesses.
Nor would it be home to the committed leaders willing to take the risk to develop and finance a campaign that attempted to move the needle one more time. Unsuccessful as that effort turned out to be, it left us with a worthwhile rallying point for future efforts in which the majority of us might indeed “Say Yes to Grand Junction.”
Sometimes, Mike, the glass is half full instead of empty. It’s also worthwhile noting that it never pays to burn your bridges — that the folks who were on the other side this time might well be your strongest allies in another effort.
What we experienced a week ago was voters distinguishing between amenities and necessities. Beefing up financing for Grand Junction’s streets became a voter-approved necessity while taking on more than $130 million in debt for a center many voters would not use was seen as an unnecessary amenity.
So what’s next? In my mind, District 51 schools are the next necessity needing a “yes.”
Good schools are vital for several important reasons. Even if we didn’t want a 21st century education infrastructure for the kids now being educated in District 51, there’s another selfish reason to boost school spending, one that was also touted by supporters of that rejected amenity, the events center.
There’s no single economic development tool more important that high-quality schools. Local entrepreneurs and outside business looking to relocate have one primary concern: the quality of the local workforce and opportunities for additional education and training. Pure and simple — ahead of cheap ground or buildings, more important than tax breaks or low local levies or any other incentives.
No business will succeed without well-educated employees. Communities that commit to high-quality schools, from pre-K to higher education, have a leg up in attracting business development both homegrown and imported.
It’s imperative that any “Say Yes to Schools” campaign be at least as well-financed and organized as the events center campaign. It wasn’t lack of organization or money that led to that failure, it was riding the wrong horse.
The same cadre of community leaders also needs to step forward to help sell a school bond issue. Needs must be clearly outlined and student-focused and proposed spending must be targeted to directly meeting those needs. There should be no overreach. Priorities should be replacing aging buildings, catching up on maintenance needs of remaining facilities and updating technology so that students in every school have equal access to modern learning tools.
Perhaps then we’ll approve additional spending on another necessity and “Say Yes to Kids.”