It is easy, and natural, in dismal economic times to feel a measure of desperation.
Look around as you drive through the community and you will cultivate your sense of unease; you see empty retail buildings, homes for sale in a market in which values have plummeted over the course of a few years, a jury-rigged used car sales lot located in a former downtown grocery store parking lot.
It is natural that local officials feel this measure of desperation; it is unwise to allow that feeling to fuel impulsive actions that aim at unlikely results and waste taxpayer money.
While concern is justified, there is comfort to be had if we consider encouraging realities. Such consideration results in a call for patience and reasoned, well-planned approaches to locating exits from the doldrums.
The first reality: Our community and governments are doing a great deal to improve the local economy. But those improvements must be reckoned alongside a realization of what kind of community we are.
Recent census results show our median age is 48.4. Half our population is older than 48. We are, in some ways, a retirement community, and retirement communities are not known for hot economies.
We are also, in no uncertain terms, a tourism economy, reliant on outside dollars to support business. We are not an industrial center, nor are we yet a hub in the high-tech, web-based business world.
With these facts in mind, we note the following:
Are we doing what we can to stimulate tourism? Yes. We spend more than $300,000 in tax dollars to attract tourists. Our Chamber works to attract tourists. Local businesses do their best to attract tourists and ensure their return.
Are we working to attract new business? Yes. The CDC is on the job developing, for example, a business inoculation plan that provides lease and service fee breaks for new businesses, as well as connections with Region 9 and the Small Business Development Center. Both town and county have extended generous fee breaks to businesses seeking to build or add-on to new facilities (with the town signaling a desire to continue). Both entities seem willing to do what they can to bring new business to the area.
Movement in the field of geothermal energy development looks promising and could at some time in the future result in a townwide heating system that provides reasonable heating costs for business. The geothermal resource could provide a base for the creation of industries — agriculture and aquaculture operations. The geothermal greenhouse project, if successful, would be a tourist attraction and, moreover, would be an addition to the economic base as a possible research center.
Are we improving infrastructure? Yes. Government participation in the broadband project is showing results. Work continues on roads and on town streets — the Lewis Street project being the latest. Efforts continue to finish trail systems and to complete the Town-to-Lakes Trail.
Have we improved basic services? Yes, in particular with the addition and growth of the Pagosa Springs Medical Center, its hospital and clinic, and the continued improvement of the airport and EMS, law enforcement and fire protection services. These aspects of our community life are as strong as those in similar size communities and better than many.
We’ve done a lot and, granted, more needs to be done. But we need to remember the economy will not significantly improve here before it improves elsewhere — out there, in the bigger world. There is no need to panic; there is only the need to continue on a positive track, making incremental progress to ensure we are ready when others are ready for us.