In economic development race, tortoises beat hares

There’s a temptation in economic development to look for the silver bullet, the one solution to solve all problems and quickly bring prosperity to an area. But there’s another metaphor that might prove more useful in describing efforts to sustain an economy over the long term, and that’s the tortoise.

While the announced plans to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction fell short of what initially was envisioned in terms of the number of jobs and immediate effects involved, a more incremental approach to growing the Grand Valley economy could actually work better.

The Department of Interior, which oversees the BLM, conducted a telephone briefing to cover the details of a BLM reorganization that will move nearly 300 positions from Washington, D.C. to locations in the Western United States. That will include 27 executive and support positions in a new agency headquarters in Grand Junction.

In terms of just jobs, other locations will get more in the move than Grand Junction. In fact, more than twice as many jobs will go to national and state BLM offices in Lakewood.

What Grand Junction will get, though, is a standalone headquarters and the status and recognition that comes with that.

Would the relocation of the entire BLM staff in Washington to Grand Junction have significantly bolstered the Grand Valley and Western Colorado economies? Undoubtedly.

On the other hand, could the current infrastructure in Grand Junction accommodate that kind of shock? What would it have taken to provide the additional office space and improve streets, water lines and other public services to meet that kind of demand? At what cost? That’s not to mention housing. There’s already a shortage of housing that’s driven up prices and curbed the residential real estate market.

Over the long-term, the benefits of relocating the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction could be realized in the awareness that brings to the Grand Valley and validation this area constitutes an attractive location. What’s good enough for the BLM well could be good enough for companies looking for a new home for their operations and employees.

Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, makes another good point. The success of collaborative efforts to bring the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction — although in smaller measure than what was first hoped — should inspire confidence to under take similarly audacious efforts.

Meanwhile, other efforts continue to improve the Grand Valley economy —to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses either expand or sustain operations. In that sense, success can be measured one business at a time and one job at a time.

Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare. There’s are advantages, of course, to speed and quickly completing endeavors. But over the course of a race, a slower, thoughtful and consistently deliberate effort more often prevails.

It’s sometimes a waste of time and limited resources desperately searching for silver bullets when it’s better to emulate the tortoise.