Hickenlooper first looks west to develop statewide economic development plan

FRUITA — Cross-promoting Colorado’s businesses, landscapes and small-business innovation is a key to driving economic development during hard times, Gov. John Hickenlooper told more than 100 Western Slope elected officials, economic development experts, association employees and a scattering of private business people Friday.

In the first of a 3½-month effort to develop a statewide economic plan, the new governor held the first official meeting in Fruita’s brand-new, $14 million community center, which will formally open this week with pools, a track and other recreational amenities, a senior activity center and a branch of the Mesa County libraries.

It was the first visit to Fruita, a town of about 8,000 people 15 miles northwest of Grand Junction, in memory, local officials said.

“Historically, a governor calls in top people in business, makes an economic development plan and sends it out to the state,” Hickenlooper said. “What we want to do is start from the bottom up.”

It’s even more challenging because there is “no appetite anywhere for raised taxes and everything is severely underfunded, especially higher education and highways,” he said.

Hickenlooper called for a close look at regulations that unduly hamper business by figuring out “what is appropriate regulation where we need it. Let’s find out where it turns into red tape. I am not saying we lower the standards, raise risk or not protect our land and water.”

As an example of cross-promotion, he talked of a conversation he had during the campaign with a ski area executive, who was in the final stages of deciding which of two companies would build a new ski lift.

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be something to put ‘imagined and manufactured in Colorado’ on all your lift towers’ by having (Leitner) Poma build it, and it’s a Colorado company?” Hickenlooper said, referring to the ski lift manufacturer in Grand Junction.

Leitner-Poma got the job, he said.

Newly appointed director of the Colorado Tourism Office, former state Sen. Al White, made a pitch for the state’s second largest industry, telling local officials that money spent on tourism helps propel other programs.

Also traveling with the new governor were Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, and Reeves Brown, former head of Club 20, a Western Slope organization who now heads up the Department of Local Affairs in the Hickenlooper administration.

After the governor’s remarks, representatives of 11 Western Slope counties reported on the state of their economic development plans, their strengths they wished to promote and their wish lists of desired components.

They ranged from broadband service, air travel, job training through state and community colleges and tourism promotion.

One economic development official, Darcy Trask of Moffat County, told Hickenlooper, “our largest employers got kicked in the teeth by regulation” last year when the legislature and Gov. Bill Ritter decided to push conversion of coal-burning power plants in Denver to natural gas.

“Give us an emissions standard and we will meet it,” Trask said.

Hickenlooper replied that coal “has to be part of the solution” and that Colorado should be heavily involved in clean coal research, noting that Wyoming “is way ahead of us” in such activity.

After the economic meeting, Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia attended their Western Slope inaugural dinner, a barbeque event at a Grand Junction beer bar and restaurant.

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