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If we must have corporate welfare, spread it around

Essay by Ellen Miller

Colorado politics – September 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

If we must have corporate welfare in Colorado, then we should spread it around

by Ellen Miller

Once again, the big city is throwing itself at the feet of a corporate suitor who promises thousands of jobs and good pay, great things ahead — and asks only a few, but quite expensive, corporate subsidies.

This corporate suitor is Nike, hardly a welfare case, and its target is Broomfield, between Denver and Boulder. Economic development officials are rolling hoops on the hour for Nike, reasoning that all these jobs are too good to pass up.

Great. Let’s add to the congestion on the Boulder Turnpike, a/k/a Highway 36. Let’s increase the horrible gridlock on U.S. 287, the road that has been under construction for improvements that are never enough for years and years. Meanwhile, let’s not think about other alternatives in the state.

There is a section of the Rural West, specifically Colorado, that is in a world of hurt. The economic good times have pretty much passed the San Luis Valley by. At the same time, pressure is building on school funding, highway maintenance, and welfare reform.

The people of the San Luis Valley are Colorado’s poorest. Isolated by mountain passes yet rewarded with incredible living — and there aren’t many job options. What few jobs exist pay very little. Welfare rolls are huge. The state, with welfare reform, faces the problem of placing huge numbers of welfare recipients in jobs — this in a place where jobs don’t exist.

When the Western Slope got hit with the oil shale bust in the early ’80s, the state machinery paid attention. The governor’s economic development types were dispatched. Public Service Co. sent its specialists along with funds and voila! Companies were attracted. There was a jump start, so much so that more than 10 years later, there are whines about too much growth.

Why isn’t the poorest section of Colorado getting that kind of attention? Nike is an opportunity that came down from the heavens and the state wants to waste it on the Front Range, where traffic, school crowding, and simply filling jobs are problems. And the state is preparing to pay Nike big bucks to add to the mess formerly known as Denver.

Couldn’t Nike be persuaded to build its new plant in the San Luis Valley instead? Provided the people there want the plant, which should be their decision and nobody else’s. They are the people who should decide whether growth by Nike would be a boon or a plague visited upon them. But why should the state provide tax goodies for Nike to add to existing problems in the metroplex when those same subsidies could boost a whole region that is sorely in need?

Nike apparently requires air transportation. Fine. Alamosa has a perfectly good airport, and should it require improvements, the state subsidy for doing so would be far less than building access roads for Nike between Broomfield and DIA. Nike wants an athletic population. Just look at the records of the Adams State College cross-country runners and their entire program, known world-wide for production of fine athletes and its impressive collection of national championship trophies. Running at 7,700 feet will do that.

Work ethic? Give me a break. The people of the San Luis Valley work damn hard just staying alive. Real work at a living wage would attract them in droves. Finding people willing and able to work wouldn’t be a problem.

The company execs would face instead some of the most gorgeous scenery in the world. The Land of Cold Sunshine grows on anybody. The airport can be brought up to whatever speed Nike requires, and likewise telecommunications, once the governor throws in. Nike even gets points with the politically correct crowd by locating in a largely Hispanic region.

Problem is, it makes sense.

Probably won’t happen.

Based in Grand Junction, Ellen Miller covers the Western Slope for The Denver Post.