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The airport and the economy

As have economies of all scales, in nearly all places, the economy in Pagosa Country has taken significant blows since the downturn began. Being particularly sensitive to conditions elsewhere, chances for a quick recovery seem unlikely. But, when that recovery takes place, one hopes it is based on a newly-expanded foundation.

Local officials and business leaders fret over the situation.

Local government works at solutions, in the company of tax-supported commissions and government-assisted corporations.

Many ideas relate to the tourism trade and, while any boost to this sector is helpful, tourism is not our biggest problem.

Give lodgers tax and sales tax numbers a close look: tourism is doing fairly well, all things considered. Our great economic blow came from the downturn in real estate and construction industries. Both prospered due, in part, to a diseased financial situation created elsewhere. Both grew incredibly quickly and, when the house of cards collapsed on Wall Street and with lenders, both deflated at an alarming rate.

So, the focus tends to center on what remains: tourism.

Fine, as long as ideas and projects demand high-quality development. For only high-quality development will help produce a stable and more diversified economy in the future.

And, in light of the need to find other economic bases for the area, government needs to continue to provide the best infrastructure possible: roads, streets, sidewalks, trails, water and sewer, as well as effective law enforcement and emergency response services. Government projects should seek the highest possible quality. To short-change the public with second-hand machinery and low-rent ideas is to sacrifice the future to a carnival environment. The goal must be to create the kind of place to which business can relocate, where businesses can be created and flourish.

A prime example of a high-end element that should pay dividends in the future is the Stevens field Airport.

The airport has drawn the ire of many residents over the years, bringing complaints about money spent and money wasted.

Yes, the airport has cost a lot of money. More than $20 million has gone into capital improvements at the facility since 2000. The county continues to fund the airport — this year to the tune of more than $620,000 (most of it in debt service that expires in 2014).

A capital improvement plan that will go to the FAA and CDOT Aeronautics will note the purchase of snow removal equipment in 2012, the move of a self-serve fuel facility in 2013, lighting for the parallel taxiway and a second phase to construct the south section of the parallel taxiway.

Costly stuff.

But, in terms of an investment, not costly for the county. In major projects at the field in the past decade, as much as 95 percent of the cost has been paid by the FAA, with the state kicking in 2.5 percent.

As an example: the upcoming taxiway project will cost $6 million and the county will pay $150,000.

It is a sound investment in a strong future.

Take a look at airports in similar-size communities in Colorado. Few compare.

Check increased traffic in and out of Stevens Field. Look at the type of aircraft.

More important, ask what kind of business opportunities such a facility can attract, encourage and support. In the long run, it will be businesses not generally affiliated with the tourism industry, an addition to our economic base. The airport is an example of infrastructure that will pay off, and pay its way, in the future. It is one public facility that is at the top of the game.

It is an example to duplicate, if our local economy is to diversify and grow.

Karl Isberg

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