Let’s fuel the momentum of a Jump-Start to better days
With the Jump-Start Colorado Act in the win column, we need to seize on our momentum.
High-fives all around.
This community won a solid victory with the passage of the Jump-Start Colorado Act. It will give economically distressed areas of the state — particularly on the Western Slope — a tool to combat the startling migration of our best and brightest to the wealth and opportunity of the Front Range.
Economic success in the Grand Valley suffers this paradox: We need a great workforce to recruit and retain sustainable businesses, but businesses make relocation and expansion decisions based primarily on the quality of the local workforce.
So, lacking a great workforce, how can we attract businesses when the key demographic (the under-30 college graduate) can’t find gainful employment here? We’re stuck in quicksand.
Jump-Start Colorado might be the answer. It will attract some new primary employers to the area, thereby creating new job opportunity. The new employees they hire will enhance our workforce deficit.
Like sports, momentum plays a big role in economic development. So we must seize on the momentum Jump-Start will give us now.
With Jump-Start Colorado done, there are three more boxes we should and can check in the next year to break out of this nasty cycle once and for all:
1) Expand the engineering program at Colorado Mesa University, including a new building and a full slate of engineering degrees;
2) Establish daily, direct flights to strategically important destinations such as the West Coast and Chicago by guaranteeing a requisite number of seats on each flight; and
3) Rename North Avenue as “University Boulevard.”
CMU embodies our best prospects for sustainable, diversified growth. Its partnership with the University of Colorado’s engineering program is particularly important. CMU students, attending classes exclusively on this campus, can graduate with a CU mechanical engineering degree. This is the only opportunity to receive an engineering degree in the state outside of the I-25 corridor.
This partnership is being expanded now to include civil engineering degrees, but it should not stop there. It should ultimately encompass electrical engineering, aerospace, nuclear and chemical engineering degrees.
The city of Grand Junction holds the key to this expansion. The city must renew its $500,000 per year commitment to CMU for land acquisition for 10 more years. This would allow CMU to continue its acquisition of property toward Seventh Street, where a new engineering building is planned.
The days of state taxpayers bearing the load for college education are quickly coming to an end. This is why the partnership between CMU and the city is so unique and so vital if we hope to continue CMU’s growth, which we know spills over into this community in the form of economic largesse many times over.
The vast majority of communities with commercial airports guarantee seats on flights to destinations they consider strategically important. Colorado Springs does it. Montrose does it. Denver does it. Even my little hometown of Manhattan, Kansas does it.
Grand Junction does not. We should fix that.
With no direct flights to the West Coast, doing business in the Pacific Rim requires an extra day of travel from Grand Junction, to say nothing of the additional cost. That puts us one-down from a competitive standpoint. Similarly, anyone doing business on the East Coast or in Europe knows the headache of getting east from here.
Moreover, our economic development efforts have targeted California as a tax-burdened state ripe for business prospecting. But without a direct flight there, it’s worth questioning whether our efforts are as effective as they ought to be. The same holds true with our efforts in tax-heavy Illinois.
Though the guarantee of a certain number of seats on each flight is the means by which we can establish these strategically-important flights, half-filled planes is certainly not the goal. Airlines actually making a demand on these guarantees is extremely rare. Denver’s flight to Reykjavik, Iceland (of all places) — established by way of guarantee — is regularly sold out. I understand Manhattan’s guaranteed flights to Chicago and Dallas are always full.
With a little study and strategy, we can get what businesses need without costing taxpayers a dime.
Finally, we should rename North Avenue “University Boulevard” to further brand our community as a university town. As we do so, we should pass the hat to make sure businesses impacted by the name change aren’t unduly burdened.
This newspaper’s editorial page has already laid out the case for a name change. Not only is the name “North” misleading, outdated and imprecise, but “University” captures the brand we must embrace to leave our boom-bust legacy in the dust.
Jay Seaton is The Daily Sentinel’s publisher.