A different approach to economic development

The work of the Mesa Land Trust has proven invaluable over the years as an economic development tool, even if that’s not the primary reason it has undertaken an ambitious “visioning” process for the Monument Road corridor.

Certainly, the trust acknowledges the economic benefits of preserving views and open spaces between downtown and the east entrance of Colorado National Monument. It’s right there in its own literature.

But the beauty of the trust’s work is that everything it does is for locals to enjoy with the added benefit of appealing to visitors eager to use trails. Visitors spend money here, but they also get a glimpse of the possibilities: “If I lived here, I could do this anytime I wanted ...”

It’s an important gravy effect. Too often we think of economic development in the strictest terms: a low tax burden or incentives designed to lure companies. Incentives especially are a passive strategy. We can only use them when a prospect shows interest. A more active strategy is creating an energetic city with a growing array of cultural and recreational amenities — a place that appeals to “bright, energized minds,” as Gov. John Hickenlooper told the editorial board earlier this year.

Attracting a 300-person company is a rare achievement. And all the incentives in the world won’t make a dent if Grand Junction doesn’t have high-performing schools and all the perks of a high quality of life: parks, trails, a vibrant arts scene, concerts, clean air, wi-fi hot spots, bike-friendly streets and the like.

Such amenities serve two purposes: They improve life for us and they become a powerful draw for the kind of people who can greatly enhance our workforce — young professionals with the skills to work anywhere who actively choose to live here for the recreational opportunities and the family-friendly lifestyle.

These young people can work remotely as independent contractors for firms and corporations anywhere. They can raise the profile of the workforce and add jobs to the economy — even when attempts to lure new companies fall short. 

Granted, this focus on young professionals shouldn’t come at the exclusion of other opportunities. We recently advocated for a plan to help liquified natural gas from the Piceance reach Pacific Rim markets. But that’s an opportunity predicated on forces beyond our control.

Regular readers of these pages have heard this message before. We obviously think it bears repeating. We cannot continue to do things the way we have and expect different results. We must break out of the boom-and-bust mentality and we think that starts with investing in ourselves. Economic development isn’t just developing industrial parks and infrastructure to attract business. It’s creating a community with desirable lifestyle options. Mesa Land Trust has a vision for the Monument Road corridor. We need a vision for the rest of the Grand Valley.

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