Under the Dome column: The Urban/Rural Divide
Under the Dome
I had the opportunity to drive through a big swath of western Colorado over the last two weeks. I was on the way to meetings first in Telluride, a Tourism Board meeting, and then to Cortez for Club 20 meetings.
On the way to the Cortez meeting, I turned off on state route 141 south of Grand Junction and drove through Gateway, Nucla and Dove Creek. Living in Colorado for 30 years, I had never driven that spectacularly beautiful part of the state. I was reminded of how unique some regions of Colorado are and how remote they can be from each other.
I’ve read articles lately about the growing separation of rural America and with it valuable American heritage from our exploding urban areas. Joyce and I certainly feel it since we live one lifestyle in Denver and another in the hills outside Carbondale. I spend a lot of time in the Legislature talking about the problems with health care, roads, education and economic development in western Colorado. I see construction cranes all over Denver but none in my district. While Denver booms, we are losing jobs as the coal industry and natural gas extraction shrink.
But, maybe because I love western Colorado so much, I’m optimistic. Economic development efforts, tourism, more air flights, innovative education and a virtual Colorado fueled by better broadband connectivity are paving the way to a changing future.
At the Tourism Board meeting, I heard that we had a record year. I also heard that our startup agritourism business is catching on and providing entrepreneurial opportunities. I also heard a shift of our tourism promotion efforts to let Denver residents know about western and rural Colorado. Tourism can’t replace high-paying mining and drilling jobs, but it’s a start.
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At the Club 20 meeting I heard about small companies springing up in our towns and about individuals working remotely from home. Joe Rice from the Colorado Space Business Roundtable told us about Front Range aerospace companies finding suppliers outside of Denver. We also heard about companies supplying the outdoor recreation industry locating in our area.
Everywhere I go, we talk about better internet connection. The state, federal government and local entities all have efforts underway that supplement and sometimes even duplicate private company expansion of service. I see a vision for a “virtual Colorado” where connectivity can integrate the state and help with some of our more pressing problems. There is tremendous possibility for telehealth networks to reduce travel, provide health care provider access and lower our out of control health care costs. In education, teachers can blend remote learning with local expertise to serve students everywhere with superior learning tools. And economic development through work at home, startups or corporate location can flourish.
In last month’s column, I talked about my respect for local government and citizen involvement. Local groups are leading the charge in economic development, tourism, health care and new internet access. State law and state departments are highly motivated to support rural Colorado, but we will need new focus and some reorganization. I’ll continue to work for state leadership in coordination of disparate broadband implementation projects, supplemental online education materials, removing barriers for economic growth, and telehealth.
I’ve covered a lot of bases, but we have a lot to do. Please share your thoughts on the “urban/rural divide.”
“Under the Dome” appears on the second Tuesday of the month. State Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, is in his second term in the state Legislature representing House District 57, which includes Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.
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