Colorado prosperity mostly on Front Range

Let the good times roll, again.

According to the latest economic projections, state revenue this year will exceed what it was in 2007, the year before the Great Recession began. And statewide unemployment in January dipped to 7.3 percent, well below the national rate of 7.9 percent.

But it’s not champagne time on the Western Slope. Here in Mesa County, the January unemployment rate was 9.2 percent. Moreover, most of the economic resurgence that’s boosting state revenue is centered on the Front Range, according to the Legislature’s chief economist.

Those of us who live on the west side of the Continental Divide, and in Mesa County in particular, should be asking what we’re doing wrong over here. Why are we stagnating while the Front Range is showing signs of a new boom?

A frequent explanation is that the Western Slope typically lags behind the Front Range in economic trends, whether downturns or upticks. That’s certainly part of it.

But we think there’s more to it.

For one thing, there is a more diverse economy on the Front Range. There are agriculture and aerospace, conventional manufacturing and high-tech. And, because energy development in the region is focused on the high-priced oil of the Niabora formation, rather than cheap natural gas that is the main component of wells on the Western Slope, the energy industry is bustling on the Front Range, not just holding its own.

But even all that doesn’t explain the difference between eastern and western Colorado. In the Denver area — and other major cities on the Front Range — there is a confident attitude and an enthusiastic desire for improvement.

One Denver organization’s goal is to see the Mile High City become the best city in the West. Members of this group talk of infrastructure and facilities — public investments — that will help achieve that vision.

In Grand Junction, we become consumed with arguments over a ballot measure to decide the zoning on just eight acres of private land, zoning that was legally established five years ago.

We lament the city spending $3 million on a historic theatre that would likely cost just as much to demolish.

We debate whether it would be good to change Colorado National Monument to a national park because it might bring more people to the area.

The vast majority of us who live in this community are not natives, and a substantial share of non-natives would prefer that we shut the gate behind them to prevent other newcomers from entering.

Western Colorado isn’t likely to overtake the Denver area as the major growth area in the state. But, unless we develop a vision for a more encouraging, growing community with a more diverse economy, we are unlikely to match its levels of prosperity, either.


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