Grand Junction: The next great city in the Rocky Mountain West
By Wade Haerle
My wife and I have now lived in Grand Junction for more than 21 years. We moved into our first home Thanksgiving weekend 1992. Grand Junction is our home.
Grand Junction has accepted us and we love it. I have worked for CLUB 20 and Xcel Energy. I have had the opportunity to serve on the boards of the chamber, GJEP and the Business Incubator. My wife and I have risked it all by starting or buying three different businesses (for the record we are 1-1-1). Grand Junction has allowed us to live the American Dream and for that we are thankful and looking for opportunities to give back.
Of note, the one business that has been a success had a strong mission statement plus a detailed implementation plan. This simple fact has led me to believe our community, struggling to exit the Great Recession, requires firm direction and a path forward.
Our community needs a vision statement and plan for implementation. My suggestion for this vision statement involves making Grand Junction the next great city in the Rocky Mountain West.
Grand Junction is prepared to advance to the next level. We’ve had great public investments in infrastructure (Riverside Parkway, the 29 Road Bridge, the Riverfront Trail and Suplizio Field/ Stocker Stadium) and higher education (CMU and WCCC), plus investments by the medical community and local businesses. No other city is better prepared or better situated at this time.
What does this mean?
When I think of the great cities in the Rocky Mountain West, my first thoughts are of Denver, Salt Lake City and Phoenix. These are major cities with larger populations, international airports and professional sports teams. We can’t (nor do we want to) compete with them. My thoughts also move away from cities we have previously compared ourselves to, such as Bend, Pueblo, Flagstaff and Farmington. These are minor regional cities and we need to aim higher than this. Then I think of the next great cities, which include Boise, Spokane, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins. These are state capitals, major regional centers and university towns. These are the cities with which we can and should compete.
The 2015 Grand Junction City Council elections will be a unique opportunity for progress because of the confluence of several financial issues. First, the Riverside Parkway bonds will be paid off in 2015, resulting in $80-120 million in potential new bonding authority for capital projects. The parkway bonds are currently using excess TABOR revenue for speedy repayment. Second, over the next eight years the Grand Junction City Council will have a budget of well over $1 billion ($132 million x 8 = $1.056 billion) in city revenue. This is a significant amount of money, and we stand to gain a great deal if we invest wisely.
New bonding authority requires a TABOR vote as early as either April or November of 2015. Voter approval of the TABOR question focused on capital investments requires a plan and a vision much like the Riverside Parkway vote in 2004.
A TABOR election traditionally answers the question, “What do I get by forgoing my TABOR refunds?” The thought should be expanded to “What do I get PLUS how will this make Grand Junction the next great city in the Rocky Mountain West?” That is something worthy of a community-developed answer.
Ideas for capital investments may include:
√ Continued investments in transportation focused on a 29 Road/I-70 with a third lane added between the Horizon Drive and the new 29 Road exit.
√ Growing CMU to 20,000 students, including a complete offering of engineering degrees and more computer science programs.
√ A new branch of the Business Incubator adjacent to CMU to facilitate growing our own high-tech companies.
How will we know when we are the next great city in the Rocky Mountain West?
√ CMU graduates 800 engineers and computer science majors.
√ We have daily flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago.
√ Multiple new facilities serve our region, including retail and entertainment.
I do not know the precise path, nor do I presume to know the right investments. However, I am committed to the vision that Grand Junction will be the next great city in the Rocky Mountain West and look forward to community discussion as to how to make this happen.