Dear Editor:

Economic development can be defined as “efforts that seek to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for a community by creating and/or retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes and the tax base.” It is a process by which the public, business and nongovernmental sector partners work collectively to create better conditions for economic growth and employment generation.

Do Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County need economic development? Let’s review the economic and social health of our community.

Colorado has categorized Archuleta County as “economically distressed”and designated it an “Enhanced Rural Enterprise Zone,” eligible for special tax incentives to encourage investments here.” Why? Our unemployment rate has averaged well above the state level, our per capita income is less than 75 percent of the state level and our total non-residential assessed value ranks in lower half of all Colorado counties.

The number of single-family building permits issued peaked in 2000 and is down 85 percent as of 2012. It has taken many businesses and jobs away as well.

The number of businesses in Archuleta County peaked in 2007 and as of 2012 is down almost 20 percent.

Average sales prices for real estate have been in decline since 2006, although 2013 is finally showing a reversal of this trend now that we have liquidated most of the foreclosure inventory.

One of the biggest problems facing Archuleta County today is hunger. More than 60 percent of our elementary school kids get free or subsidized lunches and all get free breakfasts. As of April, 551 of our local families are on food assistance, up from 2012. What is the cause of the hunger epidemic in Archuleta County? Poverty.

Among all families with kids under 18, the estimated poverty rate is 12 percent, and among families headed by single women, it is an astonishing 30 percent. Among Hispanics and Latinos, it is even worse: 16 percent of all families are below poverty level and 40 percent among families headed by single women. What is the cause of poverty? The lack of economic opportunity — good jobs.

Our boom/bust economy is a reflection of our dependence on and continued investment in tourism which is very cyclical year-to-year, but also very seasonal causing an ebb and flow in jobs in retail, food and beverage and accommodation. While continuing to cater to tourists, creating more manufacturing, energy and information jobs would create a much more stable and vital year-round economy, with better job prospects and pay for our young residents.

Our population is declining, especially our young. Why are they leaving? Very few good, year-round jobs are available in our community. A job is not just a roof over their head and food on their table; it’s their health care, their kids’ education and their retirement.

That’s why I believe economic development is a priority for Archuleta County and we, as a community, need to work together to take collective action and generate solutions to our common problems to make our community healthy and vibrant again.

Muriel Eason

This story was posted on October 17, 2013.