In All Areas of Colorado
Remember a few years ago, there was a lot of talk here about various counties across the state seceding to create a 51st state. It died with a thud, but the emotional part of this resonated with me and I blogged about it at the time.
I was reminded of this Colorado urban-rural divide debate once again as I was listening to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State speech last week. I thought it was an excellent speech, which touched upon several important themes. One that he mentioned is “rural” - 15 times.
I am in the middle of a terrific book premised upon what growing up in rural American means: Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. It is a riveting story about one young man’s life in Appalachia culminating in his graduation from Yale Law School. This book is helping me to understand many complex things going on in our society right now. It is well written, expressed in a very respectful tone.
As I have discovered, rural means many things to many people. Demographers will have one way of describing rural, economists another. There is not one single legal definition, and Washington alone has at least 15 different definitions of the word either in statue or regulation.
As I have said before, rural for me is wrapped up in a sense of community and an attitude of “we just need a hand-up and not a hand out.” There is a strong adherence to individualism, as well as a recognition among the municipal leaders I know so well in rural Colorado that they will reach out and work with other neighboring cities and towns to solve a problem. It is also an attitude of getting things done without fanfare. All these good folks really want in return is to be listened to and have a sense that their voices are heard.
The Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank branch in Denver recently released an employment trends analysis for Colorado and other states in the Rocky Mountain region. It found that half of our state’s counties still have not recovered the jobs lost when the financial crisis hit us hard in 2008. These rural counties have nearly 3 percent fewer jobs today, while the state’s more urban counties have nearly 12 percent more jobs since 2008.
We have more deaths attributed to opioid and prescription drug abuse than we do from homicides in Colorado. The most acute problems of abuse have been tracked to more than a dozen rural counties in Colorado.
There is an information highway divide that exists in this state, most of which involves adequate access to broadband. This is a necessary utility and not a luxury from an economic development standpoint in so many rural areas of the state.
Our natural resource declines in the state have a had a dramatic impact in places such as the North Fork Valley in Delta County as well as Craig and Moffat County.
Gov. Hickenlooper laid out several proposals that are worth highlighting as evidence of a strong partnership between the state and municipalities:
- He has called for an “on the ground” rural economic development specialist to be located somewhere other than Denver to be the eyes and ears of rural Colorado. The League stands ready to assist this individual. Additionally, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs has in a budget request for an individual to specifically focus on communities impacted by serious natural resource declines.
- The governor made an impassioned plea for more financial assistance to communities in need of broadband. He is calling for the creation of a broadband point person in his office to coordinate the many efforts throughout state government. This is a terrific idea.
- We need a statewide solution to solve statewide transportation and transit issues; he has called upon the General Assembly to work with him this session to accomplish this.
- Finally, Gov. Hickenlooper correctly identified the “fiscal thicket” of tax policy and its negative impact upon both school financing and the state’s general fund. The hospital provider fee gets us there, but more profound changes to tax policy, starting with TABOR, would be even better.
These are the challenges we face heading into the new year. I think we are up to the task, and I am interested in what you think.