Get Off The Pot

Sept. 7, 2016

I was speaking to a handful of Millennials recently, including two who had migrated from Denver, CO. Since I had lived in Denver for a few years, I asked those two what was their favorite thing about Colorado. One of them immediately answered, “It’s legal to smoke marijuana!” The other one piped in, “The airport! Denver International Airport is awesome!” It seemed to be a strange answer, but Millennials are strange to me. She loves the airport because of its wide open spaces and it’s easy to navigate and there are shops and restaurants and happy people traveling. It came off as a quirky answer, but again…Millennials.

And then this morning I came across a column by Matthew Winkler, on praising the $2 billion investment that was made nearly thirty years ago to build a new Denver airport.

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Winkler writes “The Denver International Airport was the brainchild of Federico Pena, who was elected mayor in 1983 and who would become the Secretary of the Transportation and Energy departments in the Clinton administration. It was assailed as a boondoggle by some local businessmen in a campaign led by Roger Ailes, then a Republican media consultant and later the impresario of Fox News.

The airport was financed by revenue bonds, which proved to be among the best performers in the market for state and local government debt. Today it is the linchpin of Colorado’s transition to a global 21st-century economy flush with high-paying jobs and enhanced by daily nonstop flights to Asia, Central America, and Europe.

Colorado has many economic advantages, from shale to ski resorts and beyond, but state officials say the new airport was the catalyst needed to set off the boom. “It’s foundational,” Governor John W. Hickenlooper said in an interview last month in his statehouse office. “I mean we look at infrastructure as the central element ‘to build our new economy around.’”

Do you hear that folks? The idea was to build their new economy around infrastructure!

And how did that work out for Denver, Colorado?

“…the DIA’s annual economic impact today exceeds $26 billion, more than eight times Stapleton’s in 1984, according to George Karayiannakis, the airport’s director of financial risk and analysis. It has generated more than 270,000 jobs, almost twice the comparable figure for Stapleton 32 years ago, and $295 million in concession gross revenue, compared to $45 million for Stapleton in 1994 (about $73 million after adjusting for inflation). Passenger traffic was a record 27.5 million for the six months through June, up 6.8 percent from 2015. Stapleton had 33.1 million passengers in all of 1994.

Denver’s population during the past five years surged 10 percent to about 700,000 as the fastest-growing major American city after Austin, Texas, overtaking Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, and Washington as it climbed to No. 19 from No. 22 in 2010, according to data compiled Bloomberg. As the Denver population booms, the city’s and state’s unemployment rates remain among the lowest at 3.8 percent, more than a percentage point below the national average of 4.9 percent, according to Bloomberg data.”

Homeowners also reaped rewards with above average growth and below average price-fluctuations. Less people were defaulting on their mortgages. And there’s this…

“Colorado’s economy, meanwhile, is leaving behind its reliance on mining and energy. Since 2012, the accommodations and food services industry grew 22.5 percent, faster than in any other state except Texas and California, according to Bloomberg data. Health care and social assistance companies expanded 17.4 percent, the most for any state. Wholesale trade grew 17.7 percent, the fourth best in the US since 2014, and finance and insurance grew 7.4 percent, bettered only by Utah and Nevada. Today, material and energy make up less than 30 percent of the total market capitalization of Colorado’s publicly traded companies, down from 53 percent in 2010.”

I’ll keep saying it for as long as it takes and especially when Millennials remind me of it.

“Invest in infrastructure!”