Delta looks to diversify its economy

By Guest Columnist
Sunday, June 12, 2016

By John Gavan

Over the past few months there has been much discussion about the declining coal industry across our nation, including right here in western Colorado. Luckily, Delta County is pursuing proactive and forward looking solutions.

While the local coal industry has declined over the past few years in Delta County due to global market forces and the cheap price of natural gas, positive economic activity has been playing out behind the scenes. Delta County remains an important agricultural center with the highest concentration of organic farms in the state. Our produce fuels farmers markets from Aspen and Telluride to Denver and our wines from the West Elks American Viticulture Area, one of just two such regions in the state, continue to win awards and improve with each passing year.

In a forward looking step, the board of directors of the Delta Montrose Electric Association voted unanimously to launch a project to bring gigabit rate fiber optic internet service to each of its 30,000 members in Delta and Montrose counties. This action will put Delta County at the forefront of communities across the country adopting high speed broadband as a critical enabler of economic development.

It is no secret that Delta County possesses stunning natural beauty, unrivaled access to outdoor recreation, and a hospitable climate. These attributes continue to attract people seeking a slower pace and higher quality of life than that which they can find in bustling urban centers.

Coal mining has been part of our community for more than a century. Transitioning from a boom-and-bust, extraction based-economy to one that is based on a wider variety of sectors will take time, and it will be challenging. But fortunately, many in Delta County have brought the conversations taking place across the Western Slope to the next level, working to proactively strengthen our economy and hopefully to make it possible for former miners who want to stay in the community to be able to stay. For example, in the next 10 years its entirely possible for us to generate 50 percent of our energy locally through solar, macro and micro hydro, and coal-bed methane capture from the coal mines. This is such an incredible opportunity for our community.

One thing is certain: Delta County will change as it transitions economically, however, I am very confident that the underpinnings being put in place today are helping to build a strong foundation that will make a more economically diverse Delta County a shining star on the Western Slope.

John Gavan is an IT professional who has worked for the US Navy, NASA, and private companies. He serves on the board of directors for Delta County Economic Development, Delta Montrose Electric Association, Solar Energy International and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. He lives with his wife Chris near Paonia.