A matter of perspective
Early during my time as a member of the Grand Junction City Council, I rushed back to town from my day job barely in time to assume my seat on the dais as a Wednesday night meeting began. As I sat down, fellow council members were beginning their “council reports,” recapping their individual city-related activities since we were last together.
When my turn came, I mentioned the day I’d spent up in Eagle County interviewing business owners and operators about resort-area workforce issues as part of a project for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Noting whatever real or imagined crisis or otherwise “important” business we had before us that evening, I suggested to my colleagues that we maintain some perspective as we dealt with thorny issues at this and other meetings.
Two-thirds of the business leaders I’d met with that day volunteered that they had visited Grand Junction in the previous month or so. All related positive thoughts about our community, its downtown, our restaurants, our medical facilities and shopping and recreational opportunities. Keeping in mind all that’s right, I suggested, might help us make better decisions regarding problems demanding attention.
I remembered that council meeting over this past week as several of you called to my attention a piece in the July 24 issue of New Yorker magazine that featured Grand Junction. Peter Hessler takes a look at “How Trump is Transforming Rural America” through the eyes of several pro-Trump locals past and present. The article also recounts our economic and employment problems, tax-averse history, Sentinel publisher Jay Seaton’s aborted dust-up with state Sen.Ray Scott over “fake news” and other local issues.
I’m not going to contest Hessler’s take on the politics and other challenges of our town. In fact, I think he’s spot on in most regards. City Council member and mayor pro tem Bennett Boeschenstein has written a well-crafted reply I hope he’ll share with you that recounts many positives. They include cultural amenities, downtown redevelopment, attempts to diversify our economy and the fact we’re a gateway to outdoor opportunities.
What I’ll do, in addition to acknowledging sometimes irksome political and economic realities, is to take Bennett’s lead and add some additional perspective.
This past week, I’ve also had occasion to look at other local markers. Our real estate market is again booming. Prices are rising, we seem to be in a seller’s market and permits for new building are up, adding construction jobs and spending. Sales transactions in June rose 16 percent from a year ago and dollar volume increased 20 percent over last June. Home prices rose 6.6 percent in the second quarter when compared to the same period last year.
Sales and use tax collections are up double digits in recent months. Lodging taxes gained more than 3 percdent May to May, indicating we’re hosting more business and vacation travel. While our unemployment rate, at 3.3 percent, is still a point higher than the state average, it’s near what’s commonly considered full employment and more than a point lower than the national rate.
(Please, skip the whine about any decline in local workforce numbers. Those “lost” workers were mostly never “ours” but instead the transient workforce that typically follows energy booms only to depart when the worm turns. Let’s also quit comparing ourselves negatively to the Front Range. We’ll never be Denver and shouldn’t expect all the opportunities a bigger population naturally begets. Most of us also relish the flip side … fewer traffic jams, shorter lines, quicker access to the outdoors, etc. etc, etc.)
We have a growing university adding diversity as well as cultural, educational and economic heft. Competitive, world-class medical facilities are available and growing. We’ve continued redevelopment of our riverfront with more to come. Best of all, those of us here need only to step outside our front door and look north, south, east or west to realize why we either stayed here or got here as quickly as we could.
There’s work to be done, that’s certain. Wages could be better. Higher housing prices stress low-income budgets. Cost, not quality, is also a health-care issue here. Homelessness needs more work. Schools need additional support.
But, all things considered, we’re pretty lucky folks. Grab a fresh peach and celebrate.