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Rural Coloradans look to lawmakers as growth continues in urban areas

Posted: 6:13 PM, Feb 13, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-06 14:05:32-04

LA JUNTA- With Colorado growing at a rapid rate, it’s often the urban areas getting a good amount of the benefit.

Rural areas, especially those on the eastern plains deal with a unique set of challenges and some are heightened concerns urban areas face as well.

Funding schools, affordable health care and access to it, are just a few of the concerns out there.

Colorado lawmakers bring up many of these concerns during the session every year, and in places like La Junta, people agree a lot of change has been made in recent years.

‘I definitely feel like lawmakers are more in tune to rural Colorado,’ said Jack Johnston, CEO of SECOM Inc. in La Junta, a broadband service provider all throughout the southeastern region.

‘Broadband is becoming the minimum standard of life, or quality of life for both residents and businesses,’ said Johnston, who noted last year lawmakers passed a bill to fund broadband in high need areas.

This session, Johnston has his eyes on SB19-107 which addresses easement contracts for broadband installation.

Access to broadband in rural areas is something Johnston says is needed for growth throughout the state.

‘If you look at technology advancements in terms of where the industry, where the world is going- those are all backed up and supported by a robust fiber optic or fixed wireless system,’ said Johnston.

With the state’s economy considered to be in a healthy spot, there are concerns in rural Colorado if they’ll be left behind.

‘Miles away [from urban areas], some of the most important elements of our economy are being driven out of rural communities like ours,’ said Johnston.

‘Legislators think that because you insert the word rural into legislation that it’s going to be good for rural parts of the state, but it may only be good for one municipality,’ said Brian Burney, CEO of Oliver Manufacturing in La Junta.

Burney, whose business runs in the family and is nearly 90 years old, has become a popular campaign stop for politicians.

‘I think politicians like to say that there is local control, but they don’t take into account that some of the legislation they’re enacting doesn’t take into that we’re going to have to deal with that on a local level,’ said Burney.

When it comes to funding schools and having simple access to health care, Burney says there are challenges people face in his community.

‘You can get services, medical services, scans, for instance an MRI is much less expensive 50 miles from here than it is two miles from here.’

Business owners say they are remaining optimistic with lawmakers this session.

The Colorado House of Representatives created a new committee to address concerns in rural parts of the state this year, and over a dozen pieces of legislation are already in the works to focus on rural Colorado.

Some of those include financial incentives for rural educators, prescribing medications electronically, and a bill addressing water rights easements.

Representative Bri Buentello (Pueblo- D) will also introduce legislation in the coming weeks to address the physician shortage in rural areas.