Agriculture Secretary Vilsack, Colorado governor hear concerns during rural economic development summit at UNC
While rural Colorado is the driving force behind the state’s economy, rules, regulations and the time it takes to fill out all of the forms is a major problem in moving that economy forward.
That was the focus of complaints by small business people and a handful of agriculture producers at a daylong rural economic development summit hosted by Gov. John Hicklenlooper and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the University of Northern Colorado on Monday.
And those complaints, which started in morning and early afternoon breakout sessions with members of the governor’s cabinet, aren’t new, Hickenlooper and Vilsack said in a two-hour meeting with the estimated 400 people in UNC’s University Center.
Hickenlooper, in one of his first moves as governor, developed what he called a bottom-up economic development blueprint for the state.
“It’s difficult to differentiate red tape and what is an appropriate regulation,” Hickenlooper said in addressing the problem. To do that, he said, he wants to find ways to help business grow while holding the state at the highest level of accountability and ethics. He also wants to assure that the state is pro-business but is also intent on protecting the state’s natural resources.
Vilsack, meantime, called Monday’s session “the most important meeting in the next four years,” and one that “needs to be done in all 50 states.” That’s because, he said, rural Colorado and rural America are where the “food, feed, fuel, renewable energy and water” is centralized. One in 12 jobs is located in rural areas of the nation, and while the rural population represents only 16 percent of the nation’s people, 44 percent of the nation’s military comes from rural areas.
Vilsack addressed the red tape and regulation complaints by noting the federal government has been given a reality check and that it must become more fiscally responsible and use resources more effectively to “create economic opportunities.”
Agriculture, Vilsack said, was the one bright spot in the recession the country is now starting to move out of. He noted that the export of agricultural products is expected to increase again this year after seeing the same from 2010. Those exports, he said, generate jobs.
At the same time, the federal government is working to open new foreign markets for agricultural products, noting a new trade agreement being worked out with Korea will help open doors to China. And programs like the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is helping develop local markets for locally grown food.
During the morning and early afternoon, Hickenlooper’s staff and cabinet members hosted breakout sessions ranging from rural communities and government contracts to hurdles and achievements in energy and from small business success stories to water conflicts between agriculture, municipalities and industry as the state looks at future growth.
Local business owners Bud Stanley of DVM Systems, Rusty and Theresa Boyd of Whiskey River in Garden City, Warren Yoder of the Weld County Garage and Mark Kiefer of Country Creations of the Rockies, talked about developing new businesses, staying in business and developing new markets for those businesses.
Stanley, who has been in the communications business in Greeley for more than 50 years, recently started DVM Systems, which offers a way to measure the core temperature of ruminant animals such as cows, as a way to reduce disease problems associated with those animals. The company has gone global, but Stanley said there were regulations “some which are probably needed and others may not,” that he and his partners had to deal with.
Getting financing was a major problem for the Boyds, when they came to Greeley from Grand Junction to open their night club.
“We spent a year and a half going to banks. We had a building under construction and at closing, a bank backed out,” Theresa Boyd said. It was only with the help of the Small Business Development Center in Greeley that they were able to open the business. What has kept it going, Rusty Boyd said, was the decision to focus all its marketing on Facebook.
“Electronic marketing saved our bacon,” he said.
Yoder, whose GMC and Buick dealership has been part of Greeley for more than 100 years, said time and money spent on technician and customer service training have helped keep that business going during the downturn in the economy.
Sharing agricultural water with municipal and industrial needs and new water projects were two sessions, directed by John Stulp, the governor’s special adviser on water, drew standing-room-only crowds. Stulp said the fallback of drying up agriculture to meet growth demands, “which is what we’ve been doing for the past 150 years,” is no longer the answer.
Finding those answers, however, will not be easy, he said, but there are efforts being made. Some of those will be developing partnerships between municipalities and farmers may be one answer.
Jon Monson, director of Greeley’s water and sewer department, said if cities lease water from farmers, they must have a first right on that lease if the farmer decides to sell his water.
Gary Herman of Platteville, who is a board member of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, mentioned another problem with rules and regulations. Central, along with several others, has been working since the 1980s, he said, on the reallocation of Chatfield Reservoir water, which would provide farmers along the South Platte River from Denver to Julesburg with an additional supply of irrigation water.
“$133 million later, we still haven’t added a drop of water from that reservoir,” he said.