Good, bad, ugly economics in bridge-building | PostIndependent.com

Good, bad, ugly economics in bridge-building

Panelists address the Glenwood Springs Chamber Economic Forecast Forum including, from left, Luis Benitez of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Steve Beckley, owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and Kelly Alford, founder of The Whole Works in Rifle.
John Stroud | Post Independent

Two-plus years of construction to build the new Grand Avenue bridge will have an economic impact on Glenwood Springs, both negative and positive, the project’s lead spokesman told attendees at a local economic forum Friday.

“It’s not going to be pretty, I won’t lie to you,” Tom Newland, project public information manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation, said of the $125.6 million bridge replacement project during a presentation at the 2016 Economic Forecast Forum hosted by the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

“There is a lot of work to do, and it’s starting right now,” he said of impacts that businesses along Seventh Street and in the 700 block of Grand Avenue are already experiencing as the first phases of construction got underway this month.

The Environmental Assessment for the bridge project was clear about adverse impacts, from limited access to businesses in an around the construction zone to traffic interruptions and the various effects that come with the inherent mayhem of any major construction project.

At the same time, Newland said CDOT and the construction contractors are committed to mitigating those impacts in several ways, including:

• Maintaining and marking access to businesses at all times, and communicating with the public the area is “open for business.”

• Targeting the planned full bridge closure and resulting Highway 82 detour during the slower shoulder season in fall 2017.

• Keeping pedestrian access across the Colorado River open at all times, including via a temporary walkway while the new ped bridge is being built this year.

• Coordinating with the Hot Springs Pool and other high-traffic businesses to mitigate parking impacts.

• Conducting public outreach to inform both locals and visitors of the construction activity and parking options.

• Communicating regularly with businesses and community leaders about construction activities and supporting marketing and promotion activities while the work is ongoing.

“There is some economic benefit to this project, albeit a short-term benefit” while the bridge is being built, Newland said.

According to the project analysis, an additional $39.7 million in the purchase of goods and services can be expected during the course of the bridge construction, he said.

Nearly 100 direct jobs, construction and otherwise, will also result in $32.4 million in wages, and more than 780 indirect jobs will contribute to an estimated $55.6 million in value added to the local and regional economy, the analysis determined.

positive trends

Meanwhile, Colorado, especially the mountain resort region, is poised for a strong coming year, according to University of Colorado-Boulder’s Richard Wobbekind, who also spoke at the forum.

Employment growth in Colorado was around 2 percent for 2015, one of the top five states for job growth in the nation.

That growth is diversified across several different sectors, which is healthy and helps to offset job losses in the oil and gas industry, said Wobbekind, who directs CU’s Business Research Division and is senior associate dean for academic programs.

Colorado is also the fourth-fastest growing state in terms of population, with much of that growth along the Front Range but also showing up in the resort areas.

“Low gas prices also means car tourism should be strong,” Wobbekind said. “We envision a good year for summer tourism in Colorado.”

Challenges too

With that growth comes several challenges that the state and local communities must address, he said. That includes a growing labor shortage in many sectors, including construction; high housing costs and lack of new inventory; and the fact that the median family income is not keeping up with the cost of living.

A key sector in which the Roaring Fork Valley is in a great position to take advantage is in the outdoor recreation trades, said Luis Benitez, director of outdoor recreation industry for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

He suggested building coalitions between outdoor-oriented businesses to help each other out, especially as innovations in outdoor gear and new modes of recreation are rapidly evolving.

“That way the challenges don’t seem as daunting,” Benitez said. “Sometimes, people think they are connected, but then you get so busy that you miss out on things. If you can get that sector together you can have a deep dialogue about where you want to be in five or 10 years.”

Benitez spoke as part of the panel discussion, “How to Turn Passion to Profit,” alongside Steve Beckley, owner of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and Kelly Alford, founding partner for The Whole Works textiles company in Rifle.

The potential for small-scale textile manufacturing in Colorado, especially related to the outdoor industry, is huge, Alford said.

The Whole Works grew out of Colorado Mountain College and Garfield County’s nonprofit initiative, GarCo Sewing Works, which has helped women transition back into the workplace by training them make things on a commercial scale.

“We were training them [to sew], but if they wanted to continue to do that there were no jobs locally,” Alford said.

As the costs to take manufacturing overseas continues to go up, along with other problems associated with that, many companies are bringing that work back home, she said.

“A lot of American companies are seeing the advantage of working with someone in the United States,” Alford said.

“We really believe in the power of small business and the dignity of a job to feed the human spirit,” she said of the reason behind starting The Whole Works, which now employs four sewers. “I am turning my passion for design and sewing into profits for every one of these women we are employing now.”