We can either shape our growth or let it shape us
I was in Denver this week meeting with media, writers, and a few organizations who promote food, outdoor recreation and tourism for the state.
It was a sort of publicity tour to talk about Colorado’s Grand Valley and to promote life in western Colorado. One thing was very clear. They’re watching us. Denver, currently ranked one of the top economies in the country, is quickly outgrowing itself. Construction is everywhere. New restaurants open every week. Close to 200,000 new residents are flowing in annually. Throw a rock and you’ll hit a new startup. It’s a millennial playground. And it’s less than four hours away.
Every person I met with had been to Grand Junction in recent months — and it wasn’t to get gas on their way to Moab. They were coming to ride bikes, eat in our restaurants, taste wine, escape the harsh weather, and enjoy what we have to offer — an easy going, affordable escape from the crowds. One writer that I met with, who had recently relocated his family from Denver to Eagle to escape the crowds, traffic and cost of living was keeping an eye on the West Slope as he predicted a day when he’d eventually get priced out or crowded out of his current mountain town.
So I think they’re coming. Whether we plan for it or not.
So let’s plan for it. Our Vision 2020 Statement is at the end of its life and many of the goals laid out 17 years ago have come to fruition. Mesa State has grown into a university and we have increased connectivity and grown our trail system. But our hope for a diversified and self-sufficient economy has once again eluded us. Probably because we historically make lots of promises to diversify when we’re in a “bust” cycle and then conveniently forget those promises when we “boom.” And here we are again.
The workforce is more mobile than its ever been. Almost everybody I met with in Denver works from home. The danger of doing nothing is that they’re probably coming no matter what we do. And if we do nothing, we can probably count on overcrowding, land-use conflicts, zoning conflicts, poor traffic management, a greater economic disparity between our wealthy and our poor, continued unemployment in our skilled labor workforce, the loss of our young workforce, and the continued decline of our economy. Because those people who work from home, while nice to have, aren’t really an industry that grows a healthy economy. They shop online, don’t tend to have employees or grow, and travel outside of their local area to pursue recreation.
But we can better control the narrative if we do plan for it. Especially when small to medium businesses are getting priced out of Front Range economies and are looking for the Colorado they were promised elsewhere. If we plan for the growth that is coming, we can help to steer that growth into industries that are economic powerhouses — manufacturing, healthcare, aviation.
And now is the time for a new, updated vision statement for our community to better manage that narrative. As most business people know, success is more likely when you start out with a good, strategic plan that lays out goals, strategies and tactics. Why should it be any different for a community? What is our goal as a community? I assume it’s something along the lines of an economically healthy place where everybody thrives. So how do we get there? What is our ideal population? Where can we add housing? What are important industries? How do we lift up those in poverty? What is the unemployment rate? How do our healthcare costs compare to other communities? How do our schools compare? Are we providing the right training to grow the workforce needed by our local industries?
It’s time to do this. We have a new manager leading the city and a new mayor leading our council. Las Colonias will be open this summer (a vision 2020 goal) and we have a number of public and private economic development projects in the works. We can take the lead on shaping our growth or we can let our growth shape us. Which will it be?