Growing Beyond: Marijuana and Pueblo’s economic development

In 15 months the great Colorado pot experiment has continually surprised everyone of its economic prowess. And by surprised I mean no one is surprised by this because well–it’s weed.

Last year, I wrote that for all the debate over health and societal concerns, as the marijuana industry grows it will change Pueblo’s economy in unimaginable ways. Ways where renewable energy, tech and aerospace, and tourism have painfully languished.

Now with it comes another concern–becoming ‘Pot Town, Pueblo’. Those in favor of expanded marijuana growth say Pueblo should become the Amsterdam of Colorado and capitalize on this  economy. Those opposed to it say it will hurt the image of Pueblo, hurt other industries, stop jobs from relocating here, and create a stigma Pueblo can’t shake.

Yet, problems faced by economic development and tourism are the same issues the cannabis industry will face after its initial growth surge wears off. The difference here is a race to see if the marijuana industry grows so large, quickly, it creates its own second and third tier jobs, entrepreneurship and new economies.

Or, in plain English. People get money. They spend money thereby increasing sales tax revenue. Get more money. Buy a new car or a new home. Their spending increases sales and property taxes.  Get even more money. Start new businesses, retail or industry, pay workers better, and develop commercial properties. So, more sales, property taxes and land value increases. At the top of the money pile are investors of start-ups, directors of capital investments, and donors to local charities. More businesses, more sales tax, higher land values, more opportunities, more capital.

In a growing economy there are more entertainment options for young job seekers to be enticed by a city. Retirees have more disposable income to give for charitable work. Families have better parks and schools. Public services have more money.

This is the entire theory behind the half-cent fund. Bring in businesses, where non-Pueblo dollars are paid to Pueblo workers to buy homes and cars, and get paid more with a stable job, thus, increasing the standard of living.

At month 15, it’s too early to say if the marijuana industry is generating these types of secondary benefits such as more urban living options and with it restaurants, arts and culture, nightlife and recreational options. We may not see this for some time. But right now there is no debate that the marijuana industry is generating even more marijuana industry and with it a windfall of taxes.

On the other side of the boom is the fear that Pueblo will gain a marijuana stigma it will never shake, hurt economic development and tourism, thus, hurting the region. Or we become so attached to the tax monies, that on the outside chance marijuana becomes illegal, Pueblo’s economy crashes again.

If Pueblo is in danger of becoming a pot town it is not because of pot, rather Pueblo is absent of other options to rival this growth.

Just the other day, a friend told me of a business in Boulder that has a 420 friendly policy. It is a tech business. Its entry level position pays similarly to a “high-paying job” from UTC Aerospace Systems at $45,000 which PEDCO recruited earlier this year.

We aren’t Boulder, of course, but in that little statement is inherent threat of both the pro-cannabists and the Pueblo economic development crowd. Pueblo is competing not against, La Junta, Goodland, Kansas, or Casper, Wyoming. Pueblo doesn’t live in a vacuum where other similarly sized cities are competing for our jobs, but we have the sticky stuff.

Santa Fe and Taos have art. Florence has antiques. The upper Arkansas region has tourism. Denver has the western metropolitan life. Ft. Collins and Boulder have entrepreneurship and tech industries from their university systems.

So when Pueblo City Council Dennis Flores tells KRDO, we just need a way to keep tourists here for five days. Or when someone tells me Pueblo is going to turn into new Amsterdam, How? Show us your work on this because we all benefit.

What do we have to offer that makes us unique and competitive on some level to all the places I mentioned? How are you going to get tourists, even pot tourists to come to Pueblo? How are you going to improve the quality of living so we attract those who want to stay here?

I don’t think these are rhetorical, cynical questions. But it does create interesting bedfellows as both economic development and the marijuana industry attempt to grow the local economy.

Answer these questions and no longer will the Steel City be worried about becoming a pot town because at that point, and just like Boulder, even with marijuana, we’ll have more than just marijuana.

And to further complicate this predicament, as more states legalize marijuana that’s only going to increase demand increasing Pueblo’s marijuana production strengthening the economy.

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