Friday, November 15, 2019

Econ 101…thoughts

A few weeks ago, Chamber of Commerce director Richard Bond stated that they’d like to bring in more high-paying jobs to the county.
“…it’s not going to take a lot to create $8 an hour jobs. We could do that today without a lot of energy, but to create $80 an hour jobs is really where we want to be.”
Let me know if you have an opening for one of those $80 an hour jobs. That six-figure salary would make my life easier for sure.

Summer Forecast
According to those at last week’s Crested Butte-Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce report to the community, we can expect a busy summer. All sorts of bike races and events, an expanded music fest, zip lines, and the chance for an abundance of wildflowers given the water situation, will all contribute to a lot of people visiting the valley this summer. It starts now with Restaurant Week, spills over into Ride-the-Rockies and goes into high gear from there. Down at WSC, they are expecting an additional 5,000 visitors this summer between conferences, camps and orientations.
Buckle up.

Holy Moly mining…not
For those who tout the economic benefit of a mine bringing in high-paying jobs that don’t exist in Crested Butte, don’t bank on it. According to last Sunday’s Denver Post, mine company giant Freeport-McMoRan is gearing up to re-open the Climax molybdenum mine in Leadville. The Post article states, “Freeport-McMoRan won’t disclose wage scales, but townspeople have been told that entry-level jobs will pay about $15 an hour.”
FYI—Mountain Express bus drivers make between $14 and $22 an hour.
A mining company will certainly pay bigger bucks for skilled specialty workers who can operate machines made for the mine. But if you’re that dude running the Painter Boy lift, don’t expect to get hired to run the VSI5x Impact Crusher and suddenly find yourself pulling down $100K. Not gonna happen.

Oil and Gas
Similar arguments are made in the region and the state about another extractive industry in our county. Oil and gas wells are starting to pop up on the other side of Kebler Pass near the coal fields. Gunnison County is looking at regulating them with a shorter leash. While the county appreciates the money brought in by these extractive industries, the regulators want to keep an eye on the industry as it expands in the region. Given our tourism and lifestyle dependence on clean water, clean air and clean scenery, this seems more than fair. After all, the oil and gas industry isn’t always known for being squeaky clean and its low impacts.
In fact, a meeting will be held with the county commissioners on June 14 to discuss regulation of the industry as it creeps into the region.
The public may want to circle that date and participate in the democratic process and tell your commissioners it isn’t a bad thing for us to be able to keep a closer eye on something that could have a big impact on our current economy and lifestyle.

Economic development meetings
Not to sound all cynical but as I observe the evolution of this latest economic development process it is déjà vu all over again. The latest effort appears to tap the same areas as other reports from the past. Buzzwords and phrases like “sustainable economy,” “promoting a positive brand,” “diversifying the economy,” and “attracting lone eagles” all rise to the top. Of course, like a Rorschach test, these things mean very different things to different people.
So as the committee proceeds, I’d ask that it give us something real.
Start by being honest; Manufacturing doesn’t work easily here but tourism can. Western State College is a huge asset and should be a big factor in the future. Don’t ignore Crested Butte Mountain Resort, as it is a primary draw for people both living and visiting here. Those lone eagles you want to attract will settle here for lifestyle and convenience, so funding the arts matters as does convenient airline schedules, top-of-the-line wireless technology and good schools. The month of May can suck so don’t waste time and discussion trying to argue it is better to spend money attracting “shoulder season” tourists for May 8 instead of figuring out how to attract skiers on January 8 when an amenity is up and running in place.  
Perhaps try a new approach and focus on one thing, be it boosting student numbers at the college, increasing winter tourism or creating the highest altitude, fastest, most efficient wireless network in the country. And then focus on it, explain why growing and supporting this one element can benefit the overall community, and do it. It is all intertwined—boosting one good ingredient can help make the whole recipe great.

So to summarize Econ 101 this week:
* Mines don’t necessarily bring in high-paying jobs for residents.
* Oil and gas ventures in our backyard should be watched and regulated so as to protect the lifestyle and economy we already depend on.
* Economic development organizations have to create more jobs than the executive director position to be considered successful.
* In the short term, expect a good, busy summer.
* I want one of the $80 an hour jobs.

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