Attaining business friendliness

When it comes to economic development, which of the following is a statement of fact?

✔ What’s good for business is good for the community.

          ✔ What’s good for the community is good for business.

Said another way, what does it mean for a community to be “business-friendly”? Does it mean the lowest possible tax burden and least restrictive zoning requirements, with taxpayer investment primarily limited to streets, cops and firefighters?

Or does a business-friendly community invest in infrastructure, beautification projects, parks and culture and require business to adhere to strict and consistent zoning?

Like most questions, there is a correct answer and an incorrect one. Unfortunately for all of us, the answer is elusive.

This community faced this very set of questions in the context of deciding whether to fund the Avalon Theatre’s renovation. It’s practically a case study.

Some city councilors questioned whether there would be a return on the investment in the Avalon. That is, would the city, like a business, see ticket sale receipts from the investment in the Avalon over a set period of time that would justify the expenditure?

Others argued that the Avalon’s value should not be measured in terms of ROI, but rather by its contribution to the community’s overall culture. And, if that culture became attractive enough, people would want to live and work here, which would bring more spending and more business.

They are both logical arguments, but the one that represents the best model for this community’s growth is far more nebulous.

So, what has been the real-world experience of this dichotomy in action? The Denver Metro area – which has invested heavily in community amenities – is booming now, while Mesa County remains quite stagnant. As the Sentinel reported last week, assessed property values here have decreased almost nine percent between 2011 and 2013, on top of an almost 17 percent drop between 2009 and 2011.

Unemployment here has trended almost two percentage points above our Front Range counterparts. The Denver area seems to be announcing new major companies moving to town on almost a weekly basis. Not so much here, outside of a significant planned expansion at West Star Aviation and the build-out of St. Mary’s.

But can our lack of investment in cultural and “community” amenities really be blamed for the disparity? This community is far more reliant on extraction industries, which have diminished here but are booming in other parts of the country, including the Front Range.

The foregoing is backdrop to what we hope will become a community discussion: What role do arts, zoning, culture and theater – the “squishy factors” – play in a community’s economic fortunes?

What spillover effect would a revitalized “Arts on the Corner” and robust Avalon Theatre have on downtown businesses and hotels?

On the flip side, would stricter commercial zoning requirements, despite the burden on business, actually benefit business by enticing more people to the area, requiring more workers, resulting in more spending?

Or are we better served lowering the tax burden in the hopes of attracting new companies and allowing existing companies to allocate every possible penny toward expansion and internal growth?

Again, there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Let’s hope we get this one right.


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