HD 57 candidates weigh in on economic diversity
Both candidates for the Colorado House of Representatives District 57 are pushing for more economic diversity on the Western Slope. While incumbent Bob Rankin says, in his experience, infrastructure barriers currently in place keep the region from becoming more attractive to new businesses, his opponent, Colin Wilhelm, wants to see change today.
In a press release sent to local media over the weekend, Wilhelm, the Democratic challenger for the HD 57 seat, called for more economic diversity on the Western Slope, as he feels towns throughout Garfield County are too pinned down to their individual economic identity.
“For far too long the towns of the Western Slope have relied primarily on a single economic sector,” Wilhelm wrote. “For Craig, it has been coal mining. For Meeker, it is agriculture. For Rifle and Parachute it has been fossil fuel production. For Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, the driving industry has been tourism.”
A Glenwood Springs attorney, Wilhelm announced in late February that he will be running as a Democrat for HD 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. During his announcement, Wilhelm promised to bring new jobs and new industry sectors to the region.
Among Wilhelm’s ideas to diversify the economy include increasing outdoor recreational equipment production, large scale hemp production, brining in new aerospace technology research centers and more.
“When times are good things are great,” he wrote. “But when these industries take a downturn we all suffer. We should and need to be more than just a one-track economy.”
He wants to see the region “take advantage of our diverse population, diverse environments and of everything the Western Slope has to offer” and one of his goals on the House of Representative is to grow the region into a more stable economy.
Wilhelm promises to bring more of a race for the House seat than it’s been in years past, as three-term incumbent Bob Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, ran unopposed in the 2016 election.
When asked for his thoughts on the region’s economic diversity Sunday, Rankin said he and others at the state House have been aggressively pursuing economic diversity since he took office. And, while he admitted he did not take issue with any of Wilhelm’s claims, he noted the infrastructure barriers the Western Slope faces in adding new businesses and industries.
He said Western Slope residents and business owners are faced with difficulties with the availability of internet and broadband access, obstacles created by the Gallagher Amendment, property tax costs and more. All of those combined make economic diversity on the Western Slope an uphill battle.
“Who is going to start a small business in our area when our health care costs are 50 percent more than what they are on the Front Range,” Rankin explained.
Rankin added that he’s been on the Colorado Tourism Board for six years and has seen new opportunities pushed on the Western Slope firsthand.
Rankin was among the first officials to lobby for the Rifle Garfield County Airport’s Center of Excellence, which tests new technologies and techniques for aerial firefighting. The center’s lease was renewed until 2028 by the Garfield County commissioners earlier this month.
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Roaring Fork School District board candidates shared their views at a Monday forum hosted by the Glenwood Springs Chamber, and will do so again Wednesday prior to the regular school board meeting.