What politicians see

This weekend, Colorado politicians descended on Grand Junction en masse to pay homage to the Western Slope at Club 20’s fall conference.

Nearly every statewide candidate can be counted on coming to a Club 20 meeting before Election Day. It’s a small, simple way of saying, “I understand that Colorado’s challenges encompass more than the Front Range.”

They burnish their rural credentials by rubbing elbows with local leaders, trade wingtips and ties for boots and bolos, and address the issues they think resonate with Western Slope voters.

But our social complexities can’t be ascertained in a single, perfunctory visit. Who do candidates think we are? Hopefully not the small cross-section of people who shaped Peter Hessler’s thoughtful Grand Junction-based analysis, “How Trump is Transforming Rural America.”

Hessler’s depiction wasn’t inaccurate, but it did carry a certain bleakness based on observations of crime rates and local school funding. Fittingly, we’ll have an opportunity to address both issues in the upcoming election, which may go a long way toward changing the narrative that we’re a “hunker down” town.

Indeed, we are poised to be Colorado’s next “it” location. No less than Gov. John Hickenlooper has observed that Grand Junction has the state’s highest “delta” potential — or the ability to effect the highest percentage of change — which is the hallmark of ascendancy.

The local economy is beginning to perform, with low unemployment and rising sales tax income, according to figures compiled by the business department at Colorado Mesa University.

Mesa County real estate numbers indicate a strong seller’s market and all measures of home values are up. Applications for drilling permits are up even though energy prices remain low.

There are so many positives unfolding in our community. We’re transforming our downtown riverfront area with a still-developing park that includes an outdoor amphitheater and plans for a manufacturing complex anchored by Bonsai Design. It’s a bold step to give outdoor recreation more heft in our local economy and brand ourselves in a way that appeals to a critically lacking millennial workforce.

The Downtown Development Authority has embraced a forward-thinking plan to develop affordable but upscale housing in our central business district. It’s the kind of thing that could make those seeking an urban lifestyle to take a second look at Grand Junction as a place to work and live. It portends a livelier nightlife, too.

We’re no longer purely in survival mode, thanks to a City Council and city manager who understand that progress takes vision and guts. It feels like we’re proactively authoring the future instead of waiting for the next energy boom.

Hopefully the visiting politicians have noticed that we’re a community on the rise. They don’t have to play to Western Slope stereotypes to get our attention. Supporting tax measures for public safety and school infrastructure will go a long way toward cementing a new identity as a community willing to invest in itself for a brighter future.


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