With all the hoopla about economic stimulus funding from Washington, it may come as a surprise that the government most involved in economic development is located right down the street at city hall. Cities and towns are deeply involved in economic development — supporting the viability and expansion of existing business and encouraging the creation of new business and jobs in their communities.
This fact is illustrated in the 2011 Colorado Municipal League’s State of our Cities & Towns Report which is based on a survey of Colorado cities and towns. The survey reveals 77 percent of municipalities both big and small are investing resources in some aspect of economic development. All of the larger cities have staff members dedicated to economic development — as do more than a third of cities and towns of all sizes. Sometimes panned for their exuberance in promoting their towns, municipalities have always understood that a healthy business community creates a solid foundation for their city.
This commitment to making things better comes at a time when municipal governments are making hard choices on service and staffing reductions. The CML survey showed 39 percent have made staff reductions in the past year, while 40 percent of cities and towns cut budgets for streets, 25 percent for parks, 23 percent for police and seven percent for fire departments. Longer-term problems are being created with budget decisions to defer maintenance and capital projects. 57 percent of municipalities deferred routine maintenance projects in their budgets while 64 percent have put needed capital projects on the shelf.
This has given more urgency to improving the economic environment. The number one source of economic expansion comes from businesses already located in a community. Cities and towns work to foster an improved business climate through many activities including tourism promotion, business incubators, streetscape improvements, upgrading infrastructure, buy-local retail campaigns, and a variety of services for small business. Business improvement districts, urban renewal authorities, downtown development authorities and other important tools are used by municipalities to foster economic growth. Many cities and towns have partnered with business and industry in regional economic development efforts.
Attracting new business today involves much more than touting Colorado’s mild climate and outdoor recreation opportunities. Businesses looking to relocate demand an educated workforce, a business friendly tax climate, a quality transportation system, and local amenities that will be attractive to employees and their families. Municipalities play a major role in providing these basic ingredients. Cities and towns assist in locating new business through site redevelopment, infrastructure, tax incentives and zoning. Parks, recreation programs, and public performance venues are all part of the amenities that attract business to a community.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. People from outside the state recognize Colorado as a great place to establish a business. Colorado cities and towns continue to rank near the top in national publication ratings of best places to live and best places to do business. In their latest state by state rankings, CNBC lists Colorado as the third best state in which to do business, while Forbes ranks Colorado fourth best for business and for fostering economic growth.
Colorado is often cited as a state that will lead the rebound from the Great Recession. Cities and towns are leading that rebound because we have both the tools and commitment needed to make it happen. A quality infrastructure, an educated workforce, and a business friendly state and local tax environment make Colorado an attractive place to do business.
The complete 2011 State of our Cities & Towns report and survey analysis may be viewed at www.cml.org.
Jim White, Minturn town manager, is president of the Colorado Municipal League and Sam Mamet is the executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has represented Colorado’s cities and towns since 1923. Currently, 265 of Colorado’s 271 municipalities (representing more than 99 percent of the state’s population) are members of CML.