DENVER, CO – Instead of jobs as engineers, geologists and riggers, the people of Western Colorado may want to explore careers as river-raft guides.
In a January meeting with Western legislators, Gov. John Hickenlooper suggested that they look into boosting their tourism trade as a remedy for the region’s economic woes, said Republican Rep. Ray Scott of Mesa County.
West Slope lawmakers had hoped to enlist the governor’s help in untangling the federal regulatory knots and environmental lawsuits now preventing energy companies from developing the region’s rich natural-gas supplies.
They noted that the top item on the governor’s Colorado Blueprint for economic development in the region was “expand the oil and gas industry.
Instead, said Scott, the Democratic governor steered them toward taking advantage of the region’s bountiful fishing, hiking and restaurant resources.
“It was a very spirited discussion,” said Scott. “He obviously disagreed with what we were saying. He has different ideas of how to get jobs to the West Slope.”
Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis reacted with skepticism, noting that unemployment rates in some West Slope communities hover at 20 percent.
“A tourist destination? Are you kidding me?” said Meis. “I don’t plan on asking my people to give bike tours for minimum wage. We don’t want to all become tour guides.”
Mr. Hickenlooper’s press office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
While tourism could certainly play a larger role in the region’s economic development, Scott said, he added that he doubted it would be enough to reverse the current economic downturn.
“It’s a wonderful idea for Western Colorado because we have beautiful rivers, trails, scenery,” said Scott. “But to make us a destination location could take 20 years. We need jobs now.”