As we examine the current economic woes in Pagosa Country, wait for the Community Development Corp. to come up to full speed with a new director, and watch as local officials and their designees trim fees and craft strategies to reinvigorate sectors of the business community, we are reminded of something that is rarely mentioned.
One of the areas of emphasis in discussions about the local economy’s demise is the trouble experienced since 2007 by the construction and real estate industries. No doubt about it, business took a huge hit when the nation’s economy tanked. Much talk and action of late has focused on finding ways to remediate the situation, including considerations by the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation district board to, at least temporarily, suspend a major fee.
We have often noted that the foundations of Pagosa Country’s economy for the last quarter century have been tourism, construction and real estate, but this assessment is only partly correct. Why? Because the building and real estate sectors, and their satellite businesses, cannot operate at peak levels without growth. Growth is the ground in which they take root. Growth, itself, has been a major industry here.
This is not necessarily a comforting realization.
What kind of situation are we in when we must have consistent, if not accelerating population growth to support our economy, rather than a host of productive industries that ship their products elsewhere?
The CDC will no doubt work to increase the number of export-oriented businesses and, with luck, a number of small to mid-size businesses will relocate here, providing some jobs for locals. But, other than that, what can we depend on, other than tourism?
A certain amount of population growth is to be expected, and welcomed, but how can we sensibly claim growth is reliable, dependent as it is on factors wholly outside our control?
For those who desire to reinvigorate the construction and real estate trades, and their satellite businesses, an examination of growth as an industry should take into account its variability and historic unreliability, and one other recent and critical trend.
What happens if you facilitate relatively unimpeded growth while, at the same time, there is a backlash against paying for growth — or much else, for that matter? What happens when citizens react against the notion of increased taxation (or even taxation at established levels)? What happens when significant numbers of people decide that fees are too high and should be lowered, if not done away with? And all the while, your population grows with few constraints.
What happens when you achieve acceleration in the growth industry and you cannot afford the necessary infrastructure, amenities, services, etc.? When citizens are unwilling to pony up with the additional funds?
We need to think more carefully about growth as an industry. We should look at examples of what happens when growth becomes the central element in an economy. For example, Arizona— a state in extreme economic peril, with a legislature peopled by small-minded and short-sighted characters presiding in a tragic-comic manner over their state’s demise.
We need to ask if we favor unimpeded growth; if we do, how do we intend to produce the funds necessary to support its continued existence? How do we contend with current trends, ensure that the area has what it needs to consistently lure more and more people to build its resident population?
And, if we do not favor unimpeded residential growth, how can we ensure commercial development and the creation and improvement of the basic services and infrastructure needed to serve a controlled and, perhaps ultimately capped residential population, all the while creating a desirable destination for the tourists who provide a major share of the economic lifeblood of the community?