We need more of what commissioners just did

Mesa County commissioners took two actions this week worthy of a pat on the back: They supported a plan to develop the Monument Road corridor and they agreed to sell county-owned property downtown that should help bring high-tech jobs to Grand Junction.

The commission’s decisions square nicely with a burgeoning vision for community development, which has gained momentum since the city’s North Star Destination Strategies report assessed our competitiveness in the economic development arena. Plumping up recreation amenities and laying the groundwork for job creation are exactly what we think commissioners should be doing.

But, because of other recent actions by commissioners, it’s difficult to know whether this week’s actions signal a deliberate buy-in of the North Star approach. At a minimum, we should thank commissioners for not letting their own rhetoric get in the way of sound decision-making.

We’re grateful Commissioners Scott McInnis and Rose Pugliese overrode John Justman’s concerns about increasing bicycle traffic on Rim Rock Drive. We were heartened to hear McInnis describe efforts to make public lands along the Monument Road corridor more accessible to hikers and bikers part of the county’s “core mission.”

McInnis makes a distinction between investing public money in infrastructure projects, like the multimodal trail connecting Monument Road the Riverfront Trail, and supporting the Grand Junction Off-Road mountain bike race — even though both help raise the valley’s profile as a recreation destination.

We respect his position, but we don’t agree with it. At least he’s consistent. He maintains that “infrastructure” — roads, landfills, law enforcement and other basic services — are the county’s chief contribution to economic development efforts. We think the government’s role in creating a vibrant economy has evolved way beyond that point.

But McInnis is highly suspicious when private enterprise seeks help that requires any form of taxpayer underwriting.

He could have applied that thinking and refused to sell the former county administrative center for less than its $1 million asking price. The commission agreed to sell the building for $900,000 to the KAART Group. If the county got less than full value for the former county administrative building at 750 Main St., it still scored a major coup for economic development. The sale puts a property that was off the tax rolls back in circulation. It lured an occupant to a downtown location — one that will create high-paying jobs in a sector that needs to grow for Grand Junction to fulfill its economic potential.

This is the type of bargain commissioners could make more often if they adopted a more forward-looking approach to economic development. They just committed $391,972 to help the city of Grand Junction secure a federal grant to make several improvements in the vicinity of the east entrance to Colorado National Monument. But they’re reluctant to make that kind of commitment to economic development groups — even though the consultant behind the North Star report advised local governments they have to quadruple funding for economic development to diversify the local economy and provide more jobs for residents.

Our commissioners have not yet put their heads together and agreed on a common vision — especially with regard to the government’s role in economic development.

Without a map to guide them, commissioners are prone to getting bogged down in the details of their pet issues. We’d like the commission to begin its own visioning process that would ponder how much job creation is worth.

For example Audrey Taylor of Chabin Associates produced a study showing that a manufacturing company with 50 workers creates an additional 20 indirect jobs. Those jobs equal $2.3 million in household spending, adding $240,000 a year to the local tax base with a total economic impact of $8.8 million.

Would commissioners be willing to spend $240,000 on economic development, which would be repaid through a growing tax base, to realize the $8.8 million economic impact?

If the answer is no, it would be helpful for voters to know that as we head toward a fall election in which two seats will be up for grabs. If the answer is yes, what are we waiting for?


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