While 2014 certainly brought our nation a range of challenges — the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, our fight against ISIL, Washington’s ongoing dysfunction — Coloradans have reasons to be optimistic. This year, we have seen collaboration and compromise, economic growth and encouraging signs for the year to come.
Colorado’s economy is now fourth in the nation for the job growth and unemployment is down to 4.3 percent, a point and a half better than the national average. A year ago, unemployment in the state was 6.5 percent. A ranking of the nation’s top 20 best performing cities for jobs included Boulder, Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland, and the Denver metro area. Another study ranked Colorado sixth in the nation for highest quality of life.
This year, we welcomed the opening of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s new satellite office in downtown Denver, part of statewide bipartisan effort. It’s a perfect fit for the state, which also had four cities — Boulder, Fort Collins-Loveland, Denver and Colorado Springs — in the nation’s top 10 for density of high-tech startup companies.
These types of bipartisan efforts that have brought us economic drivers like the patent office have also served us well in other initiatives across the state. Despite gridlock in Washington, D.C., Coloradans have actually worked together to find collaborative solutions.
The recently finalized settlement on the Western Slope’s Roan Plateau is a prime example. Originally the subject of a polarizing debate between oil and gas companies interested in developing the plateau and environmental groups intent on preserving the land, a middle-of-the-road compromise emerged. In true-Colorado spirit, the parties came together, focused on shared values and found an acceptable solution to satisfy both sides.
We were also able to come to a compromise on an updated bill to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed in the San Juan National Forest near Durango. Working with the local communities, we recently joined with Rep. Scott Tipton on a bipartisan bill to protect more than 100,000 acres of the watershed. The bill would also establish a management plan based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup that includes a wide variety of interested parties including local water officials, conservationists, sportsmen, mountain bikers, off-road-vehicle users, outfitters, property owners and grazing permit holders.
We were able to build a similar coalition of farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and conservationists to craft the Conservation Title of the 2014 bipartisan Farm Bill, which makes it easier for producers to enter into conservation easements. We held dozens of listening sessions across the state to ensure that Colorado priorities were included in the final bill. The passage of the Farm Bill provided farmers and ranchers with the stability that comes with full, five-year food and farm policy and ensures essential resources for our rural communities.
After years of bipartisan work, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that they had purchased land to develop a veterans’ cemetery on 374 acres of land in El Paso County. The Pikes Peak region has one of the highest concentrations of veterans in the country and nearby Pueblo is also known as the Home of Heroes, as it is home to four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The new cemetery, which has been in the works since 2009, is expected to serve roughly 95,000 veterans and their families.
These are just a few examples of the state’s achievements that allow us to be optimistic in our ability to rise to the occasion and meet the challenges ahead.
In Colorado, bipartisan decision making and collaborative solutions have become the recipe for success in the state. When we meet with folks from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains, from the Front Range to the San Luis Valley, they all tell us the same thing — they want us to work together. In the coming year, we must continue to keep that tradition alive at all levels of government and continue moving the state forward in 2015.