By John Metzger | Aug 23, 2020
America's biggest problems -- health risks, social unrest, and geopolitical threats to freedom and our economy -- are being solved on Colorado's Western Slope.
Social distancing, law and order, and personal responsibility come naturally out here. Despite our vast remoteness, and now because of it, our region is poised at the forefront of a rural economic renaissance. Real estate and tourism are on fire. Businesses are relocating and remote workers are moving in.
With COVID-19 ripping the scabs off China's corruption and big government incompetence, Grand Junction is at the hub of the wheel as Americans begin the great migration out of crime-ridden, pandemic-prone cities. Manufacturing and supply chains will start returning home as well. By learning to pay a little more for American-made goods and stop buying products that enrich oppressive regimes, we can fight a peaceful Cold War against global tyranny from right here in flyover country.
We have Internet, cellular, satellite, agriculture, and energy. We have entrepreneurs, affordability, and family values. We have the federal government starting to decentralize power back to the people, setting an example for the rest of Washington, D.C. by relocating the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction.
I've explored western Colorado for the last half-century, and thought it would be nice to live out here one day. But the remoteness, the difficulty in earning a living, and the lack of everything from cell coverage to emergency services always dashed the dream. But that's all changed, and none too soon.
My wife and I cut loose from the Front Range safety net and moved to little Norwood, about 120 miles south of Grand Junction, and have been surprised by how little we've had to compromise on almost anything. Where some city folks see a backwater, we see beautiful, wide-open spaces ripe for economic and cultural revival.
We have art, educated workers, libraries, and high-speed internet. We have diversity -- not defined by race, but instead by breadth of knowledge, life experience, and points of view. Norwood recently gained national attention as the "little white town" that held a vigil for George Floyd. Shared by neighbors from dramatically different political persuasions, this event was a poignant moment of communal respect between fellow citizens, without the demagoguery, intolerance, or violence.
Public safety infrastructure
We have the people, the spirit, and the willpower. Next on the list, and mission-critical to making this rural renaissance happen, we need to expand the public safety infrastructure. The secret is for taxpayers to start funding professionalized fire and EMS departments. Hiring more career-focused leaders and specialists will be the key to supporting the hundreds of tiny, all-volunteer fire/EMS districts spread across the West.
Norwood leads by example. Luck, timing, and our fire district's visionary volunteer board came together in hiring our first full-time, professional fire chief, John Bockrath, who moved his family here from Chicago, bringing along nearly 40 years of big city firefighter/paramedic experience. He's hired an administrator to free up time for himself and Norwood Fire's second full-time professional, Wildland Coordinator Mark Garcia, to embark on an ambitious, five-year plan to establish Norwood as a strategic Western Slope Wildland Regional Center.
The results of Norwood's professionalized fire/EMS department are felt with better response times (across 500 square miles straddling San Miguel and Montrose counties), and better patient outcomes. New revenues are coming in by contracting Norwood Fire resources on state and federally managed fires, affording taxpayers better service for no more of their money.
The new manifest destiny
With the BLM relocated to Grand Junction, and a new fire-control air operations center in Colorado Springs, Norwood Fire is well positioned to help protect public lands and growing populations within an interstate, multi-agency public safety net. Norwood's chamber of commerce is also doing its part by promoting the area as a relocation destination that's well supported with essential services.
People can leave cities for the good life in rural communities, with state-of-the-art public safety resources, less disease and crime, and stronger cultural foundations to raise families with better economic opportunities. E-workers, manufacturers, call centers and the like can begin to re-establish the U.S. industrial base in the rural heartland, and reshore our supply chains. It's starting here in western Colorado where we are reclaiming the self-sufficiency that we lost to globalization, and re-embracing the culture of freedom and personal responsibility that made America great in the first place.
On the outskirts of the big Grand Valley, Norwood shines a light on what the future can hold for a rural economic revival, the localization of political power, and the next great American adventure.
Former journalist John Metzger writes, consults, and supports the rural renaissance from his home in Norwood.
Reprinted with permission from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, August 16, 2020.