The late Joel Jones, whom I had the privilege to serve under after he was president of Fort Lewis College, was big on “leadership.” That’s actually an understatement. He was probably one of the most consummate leadership scholars this town has ever seen.
For many years, he presented before Leadership La Plata – and this is an anecdotal story because it happened during an LLP Retreat prior to my being accepted to the program. He gave the class a list of five things, five aspects of a community: education, health care, housing, the economy and the environment, and asked the class members to rank these in order of importance for a community.
Now, Joel was certainly an open-minded, some would say very liberal, academic. He really wasn’t involved with business per se, though he kept his fingers on the proverbial pulse, so the LLP class members wondered where he was going with this, but they answered honestly. The graduate who shared this story with me was proud to say that the class members all answered correctly – to their surprise knowing Joel’s political leanings.
Of those five topics – all of which are important to a community – Joel posited that the most important component is the economy. He told them, if a community has a strong economy, everything else takes care of itself. People have jobs, taxes are healthy, time is available for humanitarian and environmental efforts.
The point of my story: We need to pay attention to our economy. While we’ve been holding our own and doing pretty well in our little berg, it’s increasingly evident that Front Range interests have emerged as more important to representatives in Denver. And it’s going to begin to impact us dramatically.
The most recent is the passage of SB 181. As stated on the state website, “The bill prioritizes the protection of public safety, health, welfare, and the environment in the regulation of the oil and gas industry by modifying the oil and gas statute and by clarifying, reinforcing, and establishing local governments’ regulatory authority over the surface impacts of oil and gas development.”
Did you know that when oil and gas production was in its prime, it funded close to 66% of our county property taxes? That’s why your property taxes were low and our economy was even stronger during those years. We’ve seen a steady decline in this industry, a loss of jobs, a loss of tax revenues paid by the industry to the county and more. And now it will get worse. Companies have no business certainty and are sending their exploration and drilling dollars to other states.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as much for clean air and water and reducing our carbon footprint as the next person. The point I am making here is that this decision wasn’t allowed to be ours (remember the San Juan Basin has some of the largest reserves of natural gas in the country). With a signature, our economy has been affected, without consideration to how it’s going to impact all of us.
Secondly, the Joint Budget Committee recently decreed that funding would go to colleges on the Front Range, declining Fort Lewis College’s request for financing to help with renovations to the Whalen Health Sciences and Athletic Complex.
The college is one of the region’s largest economic drivers, with hundreds of jobs and a workforce of students that support our businesses. In the case of Whalen and other facilities, “if you build it they will come.” We’ve witnessed, with the new Sitter Hall, a rise in science students (STEM disciplinary) wanting to be at a state-of-the-art institution. These students are smart and talented young adults that are an asset to our community.
But Front Range interests trumped the needs of the Western Slope and Durango.
My bottom line for our community is to be aware, be involved, let your voice be heard in Denver. Our representatives need to stand strong for our needs. Just because we don’t get Denver TV (and someday that will change), perhaps they don’t think we’re worth supporting because we don’t always know what’s going on at the state Legislature.
Remember the lesson from Joel Jones: When a community’s economy is strong, everything else takes care of itself.
Jack Llewellyn is executive director of the Durango Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.