Vail’s Mike Johnston talks economic development at state conference in town | VailDaily.com

Vail’s Mike Johnston talks economic development at state conference in town

Vail native Mike Johnston's campaign for governor brought him back to his hometown for the Economic Development Council of Colorado. Johnson, third from left, was one of a dozen candidates who appeared at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort.

VAIL — Colorado economic development specialists asked 12 governor candidates, "What's in it for us?" during their statewide conference

They got all kinds of answers.

Twelve candidates for governor, including Vail's Mike Johnston, spent two hours with 200 economic development specialists from across Colorado, gathered at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort for the Economic Development Council of Colorado.

Amazon's HQ2 was top of mind for some there. The online retailer has launched a competition to attract a second corporate headquarters and the 50,000 jobs that go with it. Others, though, were thinking smaller and closer to home, and peppered governor candidates with questions about what they could bring to economic development efforts around the state.

"I know what it takes to build the coalitions that it takes to bridge the divide. I grew up on this side of the divide and lived on the other side," Johnston said.

Johnston, a former state senator, said it is the tale of two Colorados.

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"Right now, you are in a zip code where 99 percent of the people have a high school diploma," he said from the podium in the Vail Marriott. "You go about 200 miles south of here to Saguache, where I was last week, you have a county where 30 percent of people are living in poverty. The same poverty rate as you'd find in Bangladesh."

Johnston said that as governor, he would use tax incentives, skills training and a special plan to lift rural Colorado into prosperity and extend the state's strong economy into areas beyond the Front Range.

Coloradans need training and education that will enable them to thrive in a changing economy, Johnston said.

To do that, Johnston said the governor needs to pay attention to three major things:

1. Developing talent.

2. Creating a climate that encourages entrepreneurship

3. Being someone who can bridge that divide.

Johnston pointed to his education background.

"I have been a teacher and a school principal. I have run schools and trained young people," Johnston said.

He said he has been an entrepreneur, starting both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and led them and scaled them.

"I know what it means to have to meet payroll," Johnston said.

The candidates discussed their perspectives on topics important to economic development, including transportation, broadband, water, workforce and economic development policy. The candidates were arranged by name, rather than party affiliation.

The candidates featured at the forum were Steve Barlock, George Brauchler, Lew Gaiter, Noel Ginsberg, Bill Hammons, Johnston, Cary Kennedy, Greg Lopez, Victor Mitchell, Doug Robinson and Erik Underwood.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.