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The economic winds are at our backs in Colorado. A 2018 ranking of state economies put us in the top spot, noting the state’s stellar gross domestic product GDP) and job growth, as well as our low unemployment rate. This success did not happen overnight – it’s the product of dynamic, long-term economic development initiatives and policies that have made Colorado an ideal place to live, work and do business.
Another key to this success is trade. I commend the Administration for negotiating an update to NAFTA, which, since its inception in 1993, has helped raise North American GDP by 166 percent according to World Bank data.
And while there is no doubt that globalization has hurt some U.S. workers, it helps many more, like the more than 733,000 Coloradans who work in jobs supported by international trade. In Colorado, 87 percent of exporters are small and medium-sized businesses. We’ve seen time and again that trade is not inherently a zero-sum game with “winners” and “losers,” but rather, an opportunity for all sides to maximize their economic interests.
The impact of trade and tariffs is key to economic vitality and affects all industries in Colorado ranging from rawhide to industrial machinery to meat. Many businesses rely on a trade program that is stable and benefits all Americans. Centennial-based Arrow Electronics, has said that 30 percent of its in-state jobs depend on exports.
Another side of this uncertainty is how it reverberates among those who power the supply chain. Freight railroads, for example, are critical partners in moving all sorts of Colorado commodities – from consumer products, via intermodal rail, to coal and food products. Rail moves about 150 million tons of freight annually in Colorado and about one-third of all U.S. exports. A report by the Association of American Railroads found that 42 percent of rail carloads and intermodal units and 35 percent of annual rail revenue are directly associated with trade. Without freight rail, American industry and consumers would not have the same participation in the global economy.
Just as Colorado businesses and farmers are having a hard time making long-term decisions about their operations, railroads are left in limbo by this shifting demand. If they can’t plan, they can’t efficiently utilize their resources, and that could lead to service disruptions that would impact all Colorado companies that depend on rail. Rail is an excellent lens through which to view the modern supply chain: connected, efficient and cost-effective. Unpredictable policies and regulations can throw a wrench into this well-oiled machine.
The recent announcement that negotiators reached a deal on an updated NAFTA (officially the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) is a positive step. The flow of goods across North America is good for everyone – for U.S. jobs, consumers and economic growth. Let’s hope that our leaders will continue to move our economy in the right direction, toward financial certainty – to the benefit of Colorado and the country, as a whole.
Libby Szabo is a Jefferson County commissioner, currently serving as the Chairman Protem. She is a former CO state legislator.
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