Making hay while federal funding sun shines

Phil Castle

It’s always interesting — at least to me — to observe what sorts of themes emerge from the Business Times as I complete an edition. It’s not the result of any intentional effort, but rather a coincidental one that’s sometimes expected and sometimes surprising.

If there’s a theme that emerges from this issue, it’s the federal funding coming into Mesa County and other areas of western Colorado to address a range of objectives and pay for a variety of projects, facilities and other stuff. To be exact, there are no less than four stories reporting on federal grants funding everything from mobility hubs to a bus maintenance facility and four buses. That’s not to mention grants funding projects in Craig and Hayden to diversify the economy in northwest Colorado and ease the transition from coal mining. Or a grant intended to help small businesses statewide access financing.

The latest grants follow a surge of still more federal funding in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic — aid intended to speed recovery from that calamity.

It’s reasonable to agree to disagree about the pros and cons of what some might consider federal largesse. Hypothetically, at least, there’s an opportunity cost involved. Could money spent on various grant programs be better used elsewhere? Or, for that matter, could the federal government actually repent from some of its spendthrift ways that by comparison make drunken sailors look like tightwads?

Moreover, grants sometimes constitute the beginnings of cautionary tales. Federal funding helps launch programs and initiatives, but goes away. Then locals are left to pick up the tab for continued operations. 

On the other hand, there’s an argument to be made federal grants are nothing more than dollars coming home and spent to benefit those who paid the taxes in the first place.

Tiffany Pehl, the new executive director of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, raised yet another important point in an interview that served as the basis for the cover story in this issue. Given the infusion of federal and state funding to help, there might not be a better time to intensify efforts to diversify the regional economy.

I suspect I’m preaching to the choir, but let me state this again just in case. Entrepreneurs and the businesses they operate create jobs. Not governments, although elected officials shamelessly take credit for them. 

But governments play a role in the process for better or worse. Better when fair and clear laws maintain an even playing field and reasonable taxes enable entrepreneurs to take the risks that lead to rewards. Worse when regulations make it more difficult and costly for businesses to operate and policies end up picking winners and losers among competing enterprises. 

Government grants can play a role as well when they promote entrepreneurship by removing barriers — large capital expenditures, for example  —or reducing the costs or risks associated with doing business. 

That’s a theme worth considering

Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Reach him at 424-5133 or phil@thebusinesstimes.com.