Colorado has several comparative advantages that position us to combine a commitment to the preservation of our natural endowment; a commitment to the preservation, refinement, and expansion of the pleasant lifestyle that many enjoy in our beautiful state; a commitment to contributing to the development of the New Energy Economy (an inevitable component of future global economic development); and a commitment to fostering the most robust, sustainable, and equitable state economy, and most proactive, efficient, and effective state government possible.
Our natural endowment, particularly our spectacular mountains, are an economic asset both directly, in the tourism industry, and indirectly, as an attractor for investment capital by those who want to locate small start-ups, particularly in high-value-added information-intensive economic sectors, in the most attractive locations possible (since such sectors have no geographic constraints). And, of course, many Coloradans treasure our natural beauty for its inherent, aesthetic and recreational value, considering it to be one of our greatest assets, even independently of economic considerations.
For these reasons, we need to place a very high emphasis on the preservation of this endowment, carefully regulating other industries and practices (such as mineral extraction) that pose a threat both to the environment, and to public health and safety. Fortunately, despite erroneous ideological assertions to the contrary, mineral extraction, as an economic enterprise, is not highly sensitive to regulations or severance taxes, since there is very little flexibility in where minerals can be extracted (they must be extracted where they are found). Furthermore, since extracted minerals are sold in national and international markets, the increased costs of state regulations and taxes have only a marginal effect on market prices. In other words, the benefits occur within the state while the costs are distributed all over the world. For these reasons, sound policy requires that mineral extraction be a well-regulated and taxed enterprise.
Not only is Colorado rich in minerals, but it is also rich in sun and wind and the researchers and institutions doing the most to tap the energy contained in them. The future can rarely be predicted with confidense, but one thing that is virtually certain is that clean, renewable energy technologies are a growth industry, and will be enormous economic engines in the not too distant future. Foresight pays off in the long run. Investing in the New Energy Economy today, despite the modest size of that economc sector at present, and regardless of short term ups and downs in the market for “green energy”, is sound economic policy, and a smart move for the state of Colorado.
Our natural endowment is part of our pleasant lifestyle, with hiking trails, ski runs, rocks to climb and mountain rivers to float down, and spectacular vistas to appeal to all who enjoy nature’s wonders. But the Colorado lifestyle extends into our cities and suburbs as well, with excellent cycling opportunities, beautiful pedestrian malls, open spaces, and an increasing investment in the combination of excellent public transportation and sustainable, localized, aesthetically pleasing urban development. Continuing in this direction not only provides Coloradans with the benefits of all of these public goods, but also attracts the entrepreneurial capital of precisely those kinds of small start-ups that can create the most robust state economy possible. We live in a world in which the most information-intensive industries (e.g., computer software, and cutting edge technologies) create the greatest number of high-paying jobs, and contribute the most to the local and global economy. And such start-ups in such industries locate in places that provide the combination of natural beauty, pleasant life-style, and infrastructural investment that Colorado can provide, if we pursue wise policies.
But to attract such investment capital, and the young professionals and their families that bring it, we need to provide, competitively, what they are looking for: A well-developed human and material infrastructure on which they can depend, and the assurance of the availability of excellent and affordable public and higher education institutions for their children. We are currently, disgracefully, near the bottom of the country in investment in both public and higher education, and that is a very powerful disincentive to small information-intensive start-ups to locate here. More importantly, it is a moral failure on the part of the people of Colorado. As much of a cliche as it may be, our children are indeed our future, and failing to invest in them, to provide them with the best education possible, simply because an alliance of popular economic platitudes and well-funded corporate interests have displaced economic analyses, is a choice that can end up crippling and impoverishing this state, when nature has endowed us with such soaring opportunity.
There is a clear path forward for Colorado, a coherent strategy that preserves our natural endowment, fuels our economy, and secures a high quality of life for our residents. We need now to make sure that we elect the people, and cultivate the public commitment, to realize this vision, and create a more prosperous, sustainable, and opportunity-rich future for all Coloradans.