Rowland’s approach is wrong for business

The Fruit and Wine Byway arose from an intense collaboration between the wineries and orchards that anchor the burgeoning agri-tourism industry near Palisade and local government entities.

It serves as a great example of an economic development strategy that delivered tangible results, including more vehicle and bicycle traffic on the roads near Palisade. More traffic equals more sales opportunities for wineries and produce vendors, which means more sales tax revenue for Mesa County.

If that increase in traffic causes any problems, former Mesa County Commissioner Janet Rowland thinks the businesses that championed the byway should bear the cost of fixing them. In a recent letter to the editor, she called for the county to decline funding improvements for 38 Road, a steep and winding section of the byway with a slightly higher accident rate than other county roads.

If the current commissioners share Rowland’s view on this matter, they’ve done a good job of keeping it to themselves. The road was already included on the county’s list of capital improvements and will go to bid this fall. Rowland’s stance has no practical bearing on the matter, but lends us the opportunity to comment on the role of government in economic development.

Local governments play a key role in land-use policy and providing common infrastructure — things like roads, water and sewer. Infrastructure improvements that help businesses flourish should be a priority because they stimulate economic growth and have a built-in payback. Rowland seems content to let government pawn off this responsibility onto business owners, which is the antithesis of a pro-business environment.

Why Rowland felt the need to weigh in on this matter is beyond us. She’s not running for office. Furthermore, it’s not even clear that the 38 Road deficiencies are the direct result of the byway. Whether the byway had come into existence or not, that section of the road would likely have needed widening purely for safety reasons, making Rowland’s stance not only wrongheaded but punitive.

Erecting signs along the byway involved the cooperation of the Colorado Association of Viticulture and Enology, Colorado State University, the town of Palisade, Mesa County, the Colorado Department of Transportation, orchards, vineyards and other business owners.

If anything, we need more collaborations like this — not regressive thinking that stymies economic growth.


COMMENTS

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A lot happened on Janet’s watch with the BOCC sleeping at the switch, it appears.  Had the BOCC put responsible folks, rather than paying back political favor, on certain boards for instance, perhaps more public monies might be available.

I guess I didn’t get the memo that one had to be running for office to take a position on an issue. The reason I weighed in on the matter is two-fold is because as new board members are elected they are not always aware of previous agreements. And the public is often unaware of decisions that are made when the media doesn’t attend important meetings, as was the case several years ago when the county was asked to support the Fruit and Wine Byway.

My comments weren’t a reflection of the importance of ag or tourism to our economy, but rather the fairness of favoring one industry over others with regards to road improvements.

When any other businesses (who also support our economy)build or expand they are required by the city and the county to cover costs of transportation improvements. If the belief is that the county or city should cover those costs with existing revenue, and not expect the businesses to pay those costs, then that position should apply to all businesses, and not just those in the ag and tourism industry.

The editorial completely overlooks other industries in Mesa County that support our economy. The energy industry is a significant economic driver for Mesa County. In terms of well-paying jobs, wages in the energy industry far exceed those in ag or tourism.  Taxes paid by the energy industry also far exceed those of taxes paid by ag.  In addition to paying the highest rate of taxes of all businesses in Colorado, the energy industry pays to build or maintain the roads they use.  Chevron paid several million to improve the road north of Debeque in Garfield County.  The Mesa County Road and Bridge Department works agreements with all the energy companies to keep and maintain the roads they use.  For every road the energy industry uses, they either provide the funds to help the County to maintain or maintain the roads themselves.

If we are going to take the position that because ag and tourism are good for our economy therefore we shouldn’t expect them to pay their fair share for road improvements, then we should apply that to all industries and refund the millions spent by every other businesses when they developed.

The energy industry, as a sole economic driver, has never done us well.  It is too subject to boom-and-bust cycles.  Your failure to be sufficiently forward-thinking about the merits of a diversified economy are the main reason it has taken Mesa County longer than other places in Colorado to recover from the latest bust.

We need energy.  But we also need tourism and manufacturing.

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