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Capital improvements plan

With the announcement last week that the Town of Pagosa Springs will embark on development of a first-ever long-range capital plan, we find ourselves simultaneously dismayed and somewhat encouraged.

Dismayed because such a planning effort has been so long in coming (though we remember plans in the past that exceeded a year’s horizon line, e.g. street paving projects in the ’80s designed to satisfy federal mandates regarding air quality violations). Our dismay centers on the now long-overdue action necessary to construct a new wastewater treatment plant, as well as on the lack of progress on the Riverwalk portion of the downtown trail system and consistent improvement and maintenance of basic infrastructure — sidewalks and street lighting, for example.

We are encouraged because such planning is a necessary component in the communitywide move to boost economic development — for the specific reason that creation and maintenance of basic infrastructure is a prerequisite for the kind of growth that brings sustained economic benefit.

A recent study by District 10 of the Federal Reserve centered on two modes of economic development undertaken in recent years. One attempts to draw business and industry to an area, while the other option (increasingly favored) attempts to draw a skilled and relatively young workforce to the area first, on the assumption that businesses will follow. This workforce is referred to as the “creative class” or “power cohort” and consists of workers able to function in the information-driven economy — in other words, the kinds of businesses that would be most likely to relocate here.

In order to facilitate this kind of economic development plan, certain elements must be in place in a community for the effort to succeed. Most migration decisions made by the creative class center on quality-of-life issues, among them climate, topography and cultural amenities. Add to those the availability of technological services essential for information-based business.

Pagosa Country has problems with all but climate and topography — our year-round outdoor, recreational experiences and gorgeous scenery. The creative workforce gravitates to places with institutions of higher learning (not merely satellites of community colleges) and we do not and will not have one. These people tend to migrate to areas with higher than average wage levels; ours is a service economy, with relatively low average wages. They tend to move to places with advanced arts and cultural communities, with large and flourishing arts facilities — with a few exceptions, our environment is dominated by amateur efforts. The creative class moves to areas offering them a wide range of retail, entertainment and eating establishments.

We have a long way to go in order to provide the kind of environment that attracts large numbers of this type of worker and the businesses that employ them.

The good news is that, as we make progress in creating and maintaining the infrastructure that will encourage migration of workers and businesses, we also greatly enhance our existing economic base — specifically tourism and, most especially, our attraction as a retirement or second-home destination for a huge number of Baby Boomers sitting on the cusp of retirement and pondering a move to a place that offers the beauty, peace and quiet they find lacking in urban environments. Quality roads, a complete fiber optic network, a communitywide trail system, a more extensive amenity package, health care options, effective law enforcement and emergency medical services, abundant water and up-to-date wastewater treatment systems — all these things, and more, will add to the allure of this place and bolster steady, controllable growth and economic stability for the community.

While we wait for an influx of skilled workers, while we wait for the so-called “high flyers and lone eagles” and the small businesses and industries that might arrive, serious planning concerning well-chosen capital projects can pay immediate dividends and keep us moving in a positive direction. Karl Isberg