By THE DAILY SENTINEL
Technically, the decade will end a year from now on Dec. 31, 2020. But the masses invariably treat a year ending in nine (like 2019) as the final year of any decade. Indeed, going from 2019 to 2020 is a two-digit change, which feels like the start of something altogether new.
Technicalities aside, the “twenty teens” are coming to an end, which is somewhat appropriate for our purposes here. Looking at the New Year’s Day editorials we’ve published over the past decade is kind of like reading a teenager’s diary. The writing is full of angst, hopes and dreams, but reflective of someone not entirely sure of who they are or what they want to be when they grow up.
That was the Grand Valley back in 2010. Mired in an economic recession — the worst since the Great Depression and prompting government bailouts of the banking firms, insurance companies and the auto industry — the valley was in sheer survival mode. We did what we had always done — hunkered down and waited for the next boom to rescue us.
In a New Year’s Day editorial titled “The promise and possibility of 2012” the Sentinel pinned hopes of an economic recovery on an uptick in Piceance natural gas exploration.
Finally, in 2014, we asked community leaders to “dare greatly” and put us on a new trajectory — one that would end the boom-and-bust cycles that had defined our history, our economy and our way of life for too long.
Since then the Grand Valley has been on a steady course of diversifying the economy and laying the groundwork to attract the kind of workforce we’ll need to secure a prosperous future.
One of the key things that solidified this approach was an extensive marketing study conducted in 2015 by the consulting group North Star Destination Strategies. It concluded that the Grand Valley should spend four times what it had traditionally spent on economic development. As a result, local governments stepped up and gave more to the valley’s economic development partners — an “aha” moment that investing in job creation is a worthwhile function of government.
The North Star Destination Strategies study also noted that the Grand Valley’s biggest competitive advantage in business recruitment is the abundance of outdoor recreation. That touched off a movement that still has legs. From building trails and conserving open spaces to developing a business park that caters to manufacturers of outdoor recreation equipment, the outdoor recreation industry came into its own as a viable sector of the local economy.
It wasn’t just local governments that started warming to new ways of doing things. In 2017, voters in this historically tax-averse community backed three tax increases to enhance public safety and fund school improvements. In doing so, they acknowledged that before we can get serious about tackling other quality-of-life amenities, we have to cover the most basic ones first.
In our view, District 51 schools still need more taxpayer support to fully optimize the performance-based learning model the school board adopted in 2015. High-performing schools make us more attractive to business prospects.
But so do hiking and biking trails, brew pubs, music venues, a newly activated riverfront, a vibrant downtown, excellent health-care facilities, a first-rate regional airport with flights to important business destinations and a local university growing in stature. The twenty teens saw the community make advancements on all these fronts.
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in 2016 identified the “pillars” of successful rural economies as vision, leadership pipelines and public-private partnerships. Again, the community has made giant strides toward establishing these pillars in the latter half of this decade.
On New Year’s Day, we’ll opine on the future — the next steps this community faces. “Daring greatly” has paid great dividends for this community — to a point that we are now bracing for a future of abundance and the problems that come with it.
We started the decade climbing out of a hole. Now it’s time to find a mountain to summit.