Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper addresses some 130 persons at The Rio Grande County Annex Saturday. With him, from left, were Chief of Staff Roxanne White, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, Al White, director of tourism, and John Salazar, commissioner of agriculture.
DEL NORTE — Newly sworn Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is working on repairing Colorado’s economy — from the grassroots up.
The governor, Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and members of their senior staff took an in-depth look at San Luis Valley economic development efforts at a meeting Saturday afternoon in the Rio Grande County Annex.
Hickenlooper stopped to visit with economic development agencies in Del Norte as part of a whirlwind inaugural tour that began in Edwards on Friday, then stopped in Fruita, Durango, Del Norte, Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Limon before ending in Loveland Monday.
Representatives of all the Valley’s counties were present, and each reported on economic development and tourism in their areas.
In the front row were Monte Vista Mayor Jose "Art" Medina, his wife, and Mayor Pro tem Rose Wilson.
Thanking some 130 persons for taking part of their Saturday to be there, the governor said many problems have been solved at the kitchen table, and he envisioned the room as “one big kitchen table.”
He said he could do as former governors have done and appoint a “bunch of smart people” to work on the state’s issues, but he decided to talk to the rest of the state before getting to work on all Colorado’s needs.
“I hate meetings,” he said, “but I love what comes out of them.”
He made it clear that he was all about business development and “creating jobs where there aren’t any.”
Hickenlooper noted that government regulations aren’t an answer, since there will be “regulations and more regulations and a bunch of red tape, then no one is going anywhere.”
He and the Office of Economic Development can help cut through the red tape, he said, but “to solve the problem, we need your help.”
Hickenlooper pointed out that the state budget is stretched to the breaking point, so there will be no funds to spare for a while, so development has to happen through local collaboration.
Pushing business development as a partial solution, he said regulations are always needed, but the state must be pro-business.
As a successful businessman himself, Hickenlooper pointed out that helping businesses grow and succeed will provide more jobs.
“We should be pro-business,” he said, “but at the same time, we must hold ourselves highly accountable.”
Hickenlooper noted that Colorado has so many natural merits coming out of the recession that the state has the tools to do anything.
Noting that many rural areas don’t want big industry, Hickenlooper said, “personally, I’d still like to use small, local companies.”
“We need to create a sense of place.”
Alice Kotrlik, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, added that the goal is to eventually have a statewide plan for economic development in place, incorporating plans from each county and sector of the state.
Mike Wisdom of the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group said comprehensive rural economic development plans are in place, and he can’t say enough about what the Enterprise Zone is accomplishing.
Also on the plus side is a revolving loan fund that has helped establish many businesses.
Rio Grande County Commissioner Dennis Murphy, Jr., new chairman of the Del Norte Economic Development Council (DNEDC), told Hickenlooper that one of Rio Grande County’s biggest successes is using the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program to put new schools in Sargent and Monte Vista.
He said the Ski-Hi project at Monte Vista is another example of economic development efforts, with new bleachers installed and a master plan in place for the Ski-Hi Park facilities.
The new community care clinic coming into Monte Vista is another good example of community collaboration, he said.
Murphy added his concerns to those of many in the audience that telecommunications in the Valley are primitive and their problems deter numerous businesses from settling here.
Telemedicine is available at the Rio Grande Hospital near Del Norte and at San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, but Costilla County Commissioner Crestina Martinez noted that many people dread coming into the Valley over La Veta Pass because their ability to send and receive messages and data ends when they drive into the Valley.
Hickenlooper said people in the Valley need to be very pro business and should do all they can to attract new industry and, while the state can’t send money, it can provide expertise.