Governors’ conference kicks off in Breckenridge |

Governors’ conference kicks off in Breckenridge

Summit Daily/Brad Odekirk

BRECKENRIDGE ” The Western Governors’ Association annual conference kicked off Sunday at the Great Divide Lodge near Peak 9, putting Breckenridge and Summit County in the spotlight.

The meeting is expected to attract eight governors and three Canadian premiers, as well as national media, to town during its three-day duration.

The chairman of the association is Colorado Governor Bill Owens.

The conference began Sunday afternoon as governors from five Western states and two Canadian premiers welcomed three experts to help them tackle the question of what makes a successful economy.

Much of Sunday’s round-table discussion revolved around a study in the Wall Street Journal cited by Owens that said higher education is no longer the key to a successful economy, but instead, the level of competition within the economy is to credit.

“This mythology that universities are the fountain of economic growth is vastly overstated,” said Joel Kotkin, an internationally-recognized author and expert on economic trends, who led the conversation.

Kotkin used Phoenix as an example of a city that has seem tremendous growth in technology, but has not historically been a place known for its education.

On the other hand, a city like Boston has an economy that’s not working well and a dwindling population, but has a high concentration of universities.

But, Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness, cited three major pharmaceutical companies that chose to settle in San Diego, Philadelphia and Boston because of the education possibilities. The importance of community colleges to economic growth cannot be overlooked, she added.

“Community colleges are where we’re training the large group of immigrants that need to be integrated into our communities,” Wince-Smith said.

Another opinion came from Luther Propst, executive director of the Sonoran Institute, who said the West’s competitive advantage is its quality of life, where urban settings are close to outdoor recreation.

Governor Janet Napolitano R-Ariz. posed the question of how states can cultivate a diverse economy with a good quality of life, while also welcoming immigrants who are on the lowest end of the education ladder.

Kotkin suggested states get back to the basics and focus on math, scienc and English at the K-12 level and concentrate on reducing dropout rates.

“We’re letting schools off with terrible results,” Kotkin said. “We’re not doing a good job of education people in schools and they’re dropping out anyway.”

Also taking part in the discussion were Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Mont., Gov. Dave Freudenthal, D-Wyo., Gov. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba and Premier Lorne Calvert of Saskatchewan.

Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., Gov. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., R-Utah and Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta are still expected to join the conference.

The first day of the conference didn’t go off without some controversy.

About 25 demonstrators endured rain, snow and cold temperatures to bring attention to two bills recently vetoed by Owens. The bills would have regulated private toll road companies.

The demonstrators rallied across the street from the Great Divide Lodge and on Main Street in Breckenridge. They said they want the government to hold corporations to government standards in building roads.

Inside the conference, Howard Geller, executive director of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, handed out press releases related to another vetoed bill aimed at stimulating energy conservation programs.

“I’m trying to get a little attention, trying to gain support, trying to get a little heat on the governor so he doesn’t do the same thing next year,” Geller said.

Other topics for the three-day conference include international trade and energy.

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