U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, speaking Sunday in Durango, said it will take new investments in education, energy and small
businesses for America to fully recover from its economic slump.
He spoke Sunday at a roundtable discussion with small-business owners, educators and community leaders about how to
create new, good-paying jobs for Coloradans and to keep the economy on the road to recovery. The 1½-hour discussion
began at 10 a.m. in the Durango 9-R School District board room, 201 E. 12th St. About 30 people attended.
America experienced somewhat of a "false recovery" prior to the recession in the last decade, the Denver Democrat
said. The median income was down while costs for health insurance and higher education went considerably higher, he
The job loss and housing crisis have had a severe effect on every region of the state, he said. But the local economy
is faring better than some parts of the state, and Colorado is doing better than the nation as a whole. Colorado's
unemployment rate is 6.9 percent compared with 10.2 percent nationwide.
I hear many of the same things here that I hear in other places," Bennet said. But I think there's a sense that
there are opportunities to be able to build the economy beyond what it is today in Southwest Colorado.
You are in better shape than some parts of the state," he said.
Bennet, a former superintendent of Denver Public Schools, said education remains an important facet of the economy
that ultimately will help steer the country out of its recession.
We should always remind ourselves that education is a critical piece of unfinished business," he said. It is the
core driving the economy forward in the 21st century."
9-R Superintendent Keith Owen said young families with children are moving out of this area because they can't afford
housing. That results in declining enrollment, which results in less funding to public schools. Meanwhile, the state
of Colorado is looking at reduced funding for public education.
Those two things combined together are creating havoc for us with jobs," Owen said. It becomes a very reactive
environment where you have fewer kids, you have fewer dollars and you start cutting jobs."
Schools are leery about using stimulus funds to invest in permanent jobs, he said, because those dollars eventually
will dry up and there is no stable funding once the funds are gone.
Investing in new energy and the infrastructure needed to support it also is important if the country is going to
recover from the economic downturn, he said.
In the longer term, we will not be able to move the economy ahead here or in the country without taking a new
approach to energy," Bennet said. I think there's a big opportunity there to rely on a lot of different sources of
9-R board member Joe Colgan said renewable energy such as solar, wind and biodiesel provide good-paying jobs and
reduce a strain on the economy. The government is spending large amounts of money on foolish wars that, when you get
right down to it, are related to energy," he said.
There aren't that many opportunities for real economic growth, and the one that is so clear is in the energy field,"
Jeff Berman, CEO of San Juan Bioenergy in Dove Creek, which has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 13.4
percent, said the Small Business Administration loan guarantee program has helped his business during the recession.
But other government-sponsored programs are not so helpful because small companies must spend a large amount of
resources applying for them - many times only to be rejected, Berman said. The government needs to find a better way
of prescreening small businesses so they don't waste valuable resources in applying for grants they have no shot of
receiving, he said.
Bennet said Americans have forgotten some of the lessons learned during the Great Depression. It is going to take
bold actions to rebuild the economy, he said.
We've got to find a way to make this democracy deliver on these big ideas like the new energy ideas we're talking
about and how you base an economy that is not only based on consumption and spending but also savings and