Inflection Point: The Path-Dependent Challenge of Pueblo’s Economic Development

Photo of Arkansas Valley Railway Light and Power Co power plant in Pueblo CO 1913

Arkansas Valley Railway, Light and Power Co. power plant in Pueblo, 1913

Two recent Denver Post articles highlight efforts in Pueblo, Colorado to make their city more attractive for economic development.  One focuses on the broader economic development issues, including the history of the decline of steel production.  The other examines in more detail the specific industries where Pueblo is thought to have some comparative advantages, looking forward.

Economic development is a fascinating topic, especially whether and how cities can re-invent or re-define themselves, from a past image, especially from a dependence upon a single industry.  A surprising amount of economic development is “path-dependent.”  That is, past choices and directions very much shape present and future ones, even if the past developments did not seem themselves to be entirely pre-ordained.

Pueblo has a big steel plant, which went bankrupt, was downsized, and sold, and now operates again, but at a much lower level of employment.  So, the city tries to change from a company town to something more diversified.  Very low labor and rent costs suggest some opportunity to specialize in niche manufacturing, like wind turbines.  Sunny weather and a nice river running through town suggest an opportunity to pursue an amenities-based development approach.

I have also watched the smaller town of Walsenburg, to the south of Pueblo, pursue a low-cost, arts-based development model, as my wife’s mother and extended family grew up there (in the days of coal mining in that area).  As with Pueblo, their models are Santa Fe and Taos, not too far to the south.

But, Santa Fe and Taos had their own path-dependent development patterns, and those are not easy to emulate.  Plus, as with the expansion of casino gambling in recent years, is the market for these amenities already saturated?

In any event, I wish Pueblo (and Walsenburg) well in their attempts to re-invent their economies.

~Photo: George Lane / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



Categories: Commentary

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