Time is right to finally embrace regionalism

John Daggett is thinking big, he’s thinking long-term, he’s thinking about what’s good for us.

Too bad the odds are stacked against him.

Daggett is the executive director of Embrace Northern Colorado, an organization that, among its goals, would like to see the establishment of a regional authority that speaks for us all with one voice.

This new authority could serve as a cross-jurisdictional planning commission of sorts for Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland and other Northern Colorado municipalities.

Its members would be elected.

It would tackle water, transportation, housing, job-creation and other issues that relate to the region’s growth and over which we now sometimes find ourselves fighting rather than cooperating and coordinating.

Daggett is a familiar figure to many. A former city of Fort Collins transit official who spent nearly six years as the regional initiatives director at the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization, he knows of what he speaks. He’s also been pushing regionalism in his role at Embrace Colorado since 2008, so he’s broken plenty of bread with plenty of folks on this issue in the years since.

The dollars and cents behind his line of reasoning are compelling: other parts of the country that have adopted a regional approach are capturing federal dollars that could be coming here.

Those are dollars that typically go for highway and water projects — two big needs in our own region.

Those needs will grow as Northern Colorado’s population grows. The next 40 years, according to the familiar projections, will see the addition of up to 900,000 people in the area, thanks to a quality-of-life that’s hard to match.

But what happens to quality of life when we’re the size of a Salt Lake City or Jacksonville, Fla.?

The answer depends on how well we’ve planned for that growth.

According to Embrace Northern Colorado, we are expected to build more housing by mid-century than exists on the ground today. By 2050, we can expect more than 1 million more vehicles on the road and I-25 will have to be widened to 10 or more lanes.

Better transit, new jobs, more recreational opportunities. We’ll have to build them all to accommodate the legions that are coming.

A regional authority would help ensure we’re doing that in a coordinated, logical way. Think regional parks, transportation corridors that connect cities, employment clusters that leverage off sectors with the greatest promise of creating well-paying, secure jobs. This new entity would keep its eye on the big picture, putting the interests of the region ahead of more provincial concerns.

And that, of course, is the rub, because getting Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland to act together is just not easy, no matter how smart doing so might be.

A bit ago, I wrote about how Fort Collins, Loveland and Estes Park have joined forces to pull together a bid to host a leg of next year’s USA Pro Challenge bike race.

That’s an effort worth applauding — and replicating on a larger, ongoing scale.

Will any of this happen? Is there any real hope of setting aside narrower interests in favor of the greater good?

Daggett and his 15-member board are trying. They’re on the front lines of a struggle for hearts and minds that merits the support of the wider business community.

With all due respect, we cannot count on our city councilors or county commissioners to make this happen. In general, few with power and influence tend to want to give any of it away.

No, this has to happen from the ground up. And if you happen to own or run a business in Northern Colorado, the job will fall to you.

Here are two areas I’d start with: The creation of a regional chamber of commerce and a regional economic development corporation.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Daggett’s board includes Northern Colorado Business Report Publisher Jeff Nuttall. But I would have written this either way.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or agreenberg@ncbr.com.

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