Shooting the moon on economic development
The 1980s oil shale bust spawned a countywide economic development group, but it was jettisoned once the local economies bounced back. Now is the time to bring it back aboard.
For decades, the economic universe in Garfield County always spun around the sun called Glenwood Springs. You worked, shopped and partied in Glenwood Springs, no matter where you resided. If you were really lucky, you lived in Glenwood Springs. Economic life was simple: Glenwood Springs had it all.
But, a new century seems to be shifting that universe.
After 20 hard years of exploring the black hole called “economic development,” Rifle emerged with a plan to attract major retail and commercial businesses. Recent sales tax figures show Rifle’s gain has been Glenwood Springs’ loss.
In the past four years, New Castle’s population growth has rocketed by 35 percent, with hundreds of farmland acres yet to be developed. Glenwood Springs’ growth hovered at 8 percent, with not a lot of affordable expansion room left.
Recently, too, the planets have lined up to make Battlement Mesa almost three times the size of Silt, which is growing fast itself. And while Carbondale struggles to find the balance between small and large retail development, there is no such debate in any town west of Glenwood Springs.
This new economic universe has changed traditional shopping patterns, population growth and jobs that Glenwood Springs once monopolized.
Competition for the big boxes, affordable housing developments and commercial expansion has just begun. For instance, should Rifle land a Home Depot store, this could cause a “big bang” in any future large retail plans in West Glenwood.
Our local economic solar system can change dramatically in a few miles, in a few years. It doesn’t take long to see population growth has made our economies become more interdependent and competitive. We’re in boom times, but is anyone piloting this ship?
One would think there would be a countywide organization guiding our economic spacecraft into this new world, looking at the big picture. One would imagine that our communities would want to collaborate and cooperate on economic issues.
But where such a group might be found, all we see is an expanse of deep space.
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