Editor’s Column: Why we need to support economic development

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Remember those cute squirrels who live in the tree in my yard? Well, they aren’t quite as cute as mug2016_2I thought.
Last week my car wouldn’t start. While I was at the office my husband popped open the hood and discovered something surprising: A pile of nutshells. Almond shells, to be precise.
So the “rats with furry tails” (as my uncle refers to them) have located someone’s almond stash and decided to use my car as a party pad. Uncool, little squirrels, uncool.
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that they gnoshed on any of the wiring, as squirrels are known to do, and my car seems to be none the worse for wear. Although I did learn that one must drive farther than three blocks at a time to keep one’s battery charged. Having never lived less than six miles from civilization, this was a new lesson for me.

I keep hearing a sad and disheartening refrain: “Oil has to come back or we’re not going to make it.”
I’m not opposed to mining or mineral extraction when it’s done wisely and ethically. What I am opposed to is any industry having the power to hold an entire community hostage economically.
Many of our friends and neighbors are struggling because of layoffs, our county and town governments are facing drastic budget cuts. And everyone just keeps hoping and praying the energy fairies will bestow good favor on us again. Even the folks who are still here that work for the energy industry are hoping things will pick back up. Maybe I’m impatient, but I’m tired of waiting.
A wise man with lots of experience in this area once told me, “never make financial decisions based on the energy industry.” Why not? Because, as we’ve all witnessed—more than once—the industry we’ve come to depend on has a habit of disappearing at random intervals.
It’s like having an unstable roommate. They move in, they pay their share of the rent, the utilities, the groceries. You get used to having them around. You start to rely on them. You actually kind of need them. You trust that they’ll be there to pay their part next month.
And then you come home one day and they’re gone. Oh, and they left their cat for you to feed. And they might come back one of these days, so will you hold their room for them while they’re gone?
We’ve been in this topsy-turvy relationship with the energy industry for decades. While other communities in Colorado have capitalized on other opportunities, we’ve clung to one unpredictable suitor.
It’s time for us to branch out. If and when the industry bounces back, we will welcome it with open arms, but we still need to find new and better ways to avoid being economically hogtied by any single industry. We need to diversify.
So what can we do? For the interim, we need to look out for one another. Shop locally as much as you possibly can. Hire local workers for your projects. I’ve been so impressed by the giving spirit of the people I’ve talked to in the last few months. We need more of that.
How about offering free job training for displaced energy workers so they can find new jobs or start their own businesses?
Our nation is facing a shortage of skilled labor as an entire generation enters retirement. We’re going to need more electricians and plumbers and carpenters and machinists and so on and so forth. There’s a shortage of doctors and nurses and teachers, too. So let’s make it affordable for adults who want to do something different to go back to school and learn a new skill. Maybe a skill they can use in one of the industries that will become available to us through the broadband project.
Second, we need to get involved and get behind these opportunities for economic development everyone is talking about and we need to come up with more ideas. We need to capitalize on our strengths and what’s available to us and turn them into revenue streams.
“Oh, but I don’t like that Outdoor Adventure Center idea.” Fine. Nobody said you have to like all the ideas. Find something you can get behind and help make it happen. It only takes one person to get the ball rolling.
There are many options. We need open minds, open hearts and a hefty dose of inspiration. That’s my Christmas wish for us all as we navigate these challenging waters.
And on that note, my thoughts and prayers to all of you for a blessed and peaceful, safe and merry, healthy and happy Christmas celebration.