County Update: Our economic future
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
What makes a strong economy? There are many factors, but today, I want to talk about one critical aspect: careful management of local resources and assets. In Routt County, I think we can all agree that our primary assets are natural resources and the people who live and work here.
Routt County is fortunate to have abundant natural resources — fossil fuels, water, forests and open lands. As society and our understanding of the world evolves, we have to plan for the future.
Our economy is being challenged by the tension between the need to address climate change by moving away from fossil fuels and the inevitable decrease in the high-paying jobs and tax revenue provided by the extractive industries. Planning for our economic future means thinking about how to replace this lost revenue for individuals and for public services.
Climate change also threatens the future of our water and forests with increasing drought, decreased snowpack and growing risk of large-scale wildfires. Through our planning efforts we have to ensure that these critical resources are protected.
Historically, Routt County has fiercely protected the open lands and agricultural uses that we all cherish. As we continue to think about the future of the county and how we respond to growth in our population, it is critical that we get creative about how we continue to preserve these important assets while ensuring that our community is preserved.
Which brings me to another critical point, when we think about resources, our natural resources come to mind, but just as important to our economy and way of life are the human resources we have. Our success as a tourist destination is directly related to the things that make all of us want to be here — the natural resources as well as a real sense of community that is unmatched by our resort-rural peer communities. To have a successful economy, we also need a robust workforce.
Historically, the people who work here are the people who live here, which is a huge asset as this increases the sense of community. Unfortunately, families’ ability to live close to where they work has decreased over time as housing and child care become more and more out of reach financially. We have to work to protect the valuable contribution families and individuals bring. Again, these are planning efforts that are critical to the future of Routt County.
We are at a critical time for the future of Routt County — climate change is inevitable and irreversibly changing the world around us, affordability and other population pressures are creating a need for new solutions, and the social and political climate related to fossil fuels has shifted. Right now is the time to plan for the future through creative and careful management of both our human and natural resources.
Routt County is a wonderful place because we, the people who live here, have made it one. Generations before me have been highly involved in supporting the development of policies to carefully manage our resources through land use planning and other forward-looking efforts.
In the coming year, there will be ample opportunities to participate in planning efforts related to land use, climate action and county services. I encourage all residents to participate and help us ensure that plan for economic success that leverages and protects our resources and avoids exploiting them to create the kind of economic success we all want.
You can get in our Master Planning process right now at navigateyourroutt.com, and our joint Climate Action and Resiliency planning process with the city of Steamboat Springs has kicked off and there will be opportunities for input soon. Stay tuned for information on how to get involved.
Beth Melton serves on the Routt County Board of Commissioners.
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