Will plan bring jobs?

Dolores County presents test for governor’s economic blueprint

Denise Pribble, owner of Adobe Milling Co. in Dove Creek, looks over a crate of Anazasi beans in the warehouse. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Denise Pribble, owner of Adobe Milling Co. in Dove Creek, looks over a crate of Anazasi beans in the warehouse.

RICO – Gov. John Hickenlooper is preparing to launch his plan to reinvent Colorado’s economy, a detailed strategy called the Colorado Blueprint.

Erin Johnson would simply settle for some toilets.

Johnson owns the Burley Building on Glasgow Avenue, Rico’s main street. The building’s white face is washed clean and decorated with flower boxes.

But right now, the only tenant is KSJD radio.

The engineers and lawyers who could work there have left, victims of the recession that has even hit nearby Telluride, where many Rico residents work.

Johnson’s office building is one of the few with a septic system, so she thinks she is well-positioned once the economy recovers.

But for the town to thrive, it will need sewers, she said.

“We have good Internet and no bathrooms,” Johnson said.

As much as Rico needs plumbing, it also needs jobs. So does the county seat, Dove Creek.

Nowhere in Colorado has the recession taken a more brutal toll on people’s livelihoods than here in Dolores County. In May, 160 of the county’s 1,000 workers were unemployed, the worst rate in the state.

And no place will present a bigger challenge for Hickenlooper’s vision.

His statewide plan takes local advice about making the government more efficient, said Dwayne Romero, co-chairman of Hickenlooper’s economic initiative.

The plan also calls for Colorado to reimagine its place in the world economy, “using innovation as a core element of the brand itself – the way we think, the creativity we apply,” Romero said.

The vision among Dolores County officials is more humble.

“I think it’s getting the little businesses back into gear, where you have two or three people employed so we’re not so seasonally based,” said County Commissioner Julie Kibel, chairwoman of the commissioners’ board.

Interviews with businesspeople revealed some small but innovative ideas to get the county working again: A coffee shop. A restaurant with fresh Gulf Coast seafood. A new way to mix concrete. An heirloom pinto bean.

Governor’s top initiative

The Colorado Blueprint began as the Bottom-Up Economic Development Plan – the governor’s biggest initiative of his first year in office.

At his urging, people in all 64 counties crafted economic plans that led to a statewide plan due to be released Wednesday.

The “bottom up” approach was new and useful, said Dan Fernandez, who recently retired as the county extension agent.

But it has to result in “something concrete,” he said.

“If you’re going to put this massive effort together, something has to happen. If not, the next time they want to have a bottom-up plan, the bottom isn’t going to come up,” Fernandez said.

Kibel isn’t sure yet whether the effort will be worthwhile.

“We don’t know. It’s too early to tell. All we’ve done so far is strategized, and there’s no implementation,” she said.

The Legislature’s continual raiding of local government grant money hurts, too, Kibel said. Dove Creek had to abandon its plans for a senior center because it lost a grant.

Kibel and County Commissioner Doug Stowe urged a loosening of regulations on gas and oil drilling and mining. Dolores County’s bottom-up plan also complains about requirements to pay union-scale wages on federally funded projects.

State officials already are taking the complaints to the federal government, Romero said.

Little desire for change

But some people say this county could do without development.

“There’s a whole new group of people living here, and they moved here specifically to be off the grid,” said Francie Wild, a Dove Creek native who runs a coffee shop.

Some old-timers are skeptical, too.

Fernandez, the extension agent, said people were upset with past attempts to advertise the Dolores River overlook, a spectacular view of the river where it makes a 180-degree bend in its red rock canyon.

“Some people just want this place to not change,” he said.

One thing Dove Creek celebrates is its pinto beans.

“The beans from this area are the best. People have beans in their own state, and they’ll still order ours. They cook easier, and they taste better,” said Denise Pribble, who owns Adobe Milling Co. with her husband, Harley Gardner.

But Pribble, too, has had problems with the federal government.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration swept through all the elevators in the area and issued fines. Pribble got dinged for $14,400, despite installing $10,000 worth of safety measures in advance of the inspection. After an appeal in Denver, she got the fines reduced to $5,400.

“I can’t afford to hire extra people now. I’m going to have to lay somebody off,” she said before the appeal hearing.

As Hickenlooper prepares to roll out his business plan, his success at preventing more Dolores County layoffs will help determine whether his Colorado Blueprint is worth more than a hill of beans.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

U.S. Highway 491 runs through the town of Dove Creek. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

U.S. Highway 491 runs through the town of Dove Creek.

Anazasi beans along with pinto beans have been crops that have meant jobs for Dolores County. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Anazasi beans along with pinto beans have been crops that have meant jobs for Dolores County.

Dolores County Commissioner Doug Stowe talks about the closing of the San Juan Bioenergy plant in Dove Creek. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Dolores County Commissioner Doug Stowe talks about the closing of the San Juan Bioenergy plant in Dove Creek.

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