Hickenlooper Community Forum Covers Rural Business Growth, Health, Marijuana

Governor Hickenlooper at Lamar Town Forum

Governor Hickenlooper at Lamar Town Forum

Governor Hickenlooper, accompanied by several state cabinet members, took questions from the Lamar audience and provided a general overview of Colorado issues during a Town Forum at the Lamar Community Building last Thursday, September 24.

Former Colorado Ag Commissioner, John Stulp, Discussed Water Issues

Former Colorado Ag Commissioner, John Stulp, Discussed Water Issues

“Colorado is ranked as a state in the top-level of several categories across the country,” the governor remarked in his opening address. He stated that people are still moving into the state and the economy is continuing to grow, but acknowledged that it will still be a “heavy lift” for economic development in rural areas of the state. “Government can’t be the sole instrument for creating jobs,” he told the gathering. The governor acknowledged the recent news that Lamar-based Colorado Mills is marketing its sunflower oil to 21 Whole Food Stores throughout the state.

Hickenlooper did outline several areas of economic development that can reach into southeast Colorado such as the Jump Start Program in which developing businesses can ‘partner’ with a nearby university. The governor said follow-up discussions are now reviewing a 2011 community needs assessment study in the state, seeking to determine if any progress has been made with the blueprint study in the past four years. “We’ve just completed a strategy session this past June with the OEDIT on how to achieve more business growth in rural areas and aid in that process,” he explained.

The governor said he was hopeful congress could unite on an export/import act providing loans for businesses in the state, attempting to export their products to other countries. Despite congress’s objections to what it termed ‘corporate welfare’, Hickenlooper said from 30% to 40% of that growth can belong to small businesses, seeing that they get priority in development without having to use federal tax dollars for subsidies.

Other areas included intern programs in which high school students can earn college credit and augment their resumes when they seek full-time positions; making better use of the state’s natural beauty to develop tourist related and local biking trails, more rural access to broadband development, an improved highway system and developing healthier lifestyles for current and future residents. The governor said, “We have an obesity problem with 21.7% of our population rated that way. The number is decreasing, but we’re still too high.”

Questions from the audience ranged from rethinking how the governor would alter the tax rate on legal marijuana sales and current attempts to eliminate the black market sale of pot. “State polls showed that before marijuana was legalized and afterward, the numbers are pretty much the same for people who were users and the people who didn’t smoke, still don’t,” he told the audience. He added that the state’s youth are a top priority regarding the harm found in the mental development of young pot smokers.

The governor said he’d like to see high school tests offer some form of usefulness for students, “Right now, they have no skin in the game. Their scores don’t impact their academic outcome.” This was in response to a question from Chris Wilkinson if scores could be used for student’s promotion, retention or possible graduation. Governor Hickenlooper said a better method would be to not hold a student back, passing them to a higher grade, but develop plans to work with any academic deficiencies indicated by the tests.

The governor acknowledged the lack of funding for improvements to state roadways, particularly Highway 287 and the on-going Ports to Plains project. He said the 2016 budget is being prepared, but didn’t hold out much hope for any funding for highway projects in rural parts of the state. On another transportation matter, Hickenlooper said $100M has been committed to developing a biking system throughout the state, but wants to see more money put into rural areas. He said the Inspire program is dedicated to helping communities develop projects through a program that can offer upwards of $5M to selected communities. “Our youngsters need more alternatives to staying outdoors,” Governor Hickenlooper said, adding, “Right now, kids spend only about 10 minutes at unstructured outdoor activities, while studies show they can spend from seven to nine hours a day looking at some kind of video screen.” He said these projects are going to be pushed through to completion in the state.

Regarding a last-minute question on the school mascot controversy in the state, the governor said there are no financially punitive plans to fine a school district that doesn’t change mascot names. “Lieutenant Governor Garcia only wants to be able to have a discussion among the interested parties to have each other listen to the other’s side of the issue,” he explained. Governor Hickenlooper’s next stop took him to the second anniversary observance of the Ft. Lyons Residential Re-hab community in Las Animas.

By Russ Baldwin


Filed Under: AgricultureBusinesscommunityCountyEconomyEducationEmploymentEnergyFeaturedHealthLamarProwers CountyPublic SafetyTourismTransportationYouth


About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.