In a country slow to recover from the longest recession since the Great Depression, Greeley is a notable oasis.
When a new jobs report came out Monday, in the form of revised payroll data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Colorado Springs was delighted to see the community added an average of 2,300 jobs during each month of 2013. It put our employment growth rate at 2 percent, the highest local increase since 2006 when times were good. The state's jobs-growth rate for 2013 was 3 percent - the best since 3.8 in the good old days of 2000.
But here's the real story, hidden in all the data. Greeley saw a staggering jobs-growth rate of 5.2 percent throughout 2013 - a full 2.2 percent higher than the rest of the state. The once-sleepy agricultural town, known for the odor of cattle, has become among the more thriving urban economies in the United States. Housing prices are soaring at a rate exceeding almost any other market in the country, as reported March 14 by the Greeley Tribune. The quality of roads, parks and a variety of private-sector amenities continues to improve.
Two decades ago, the city had a population of fewer than 60,000 residents and was fighting the oil and gas industry in a futile effort to stave off fracking. Voters passed a ban on fracking that was in clear violation of property rights protected by the federal and state constitutions. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in Voss v. Lundvall Bros. Inc, in 1992, to overturn the ban on a basis of its conflict with property rights. Landowners have rights to drill wells, and owners of mineral rights are protected in extracting what they own. Simple as that. Majorities have no right to deprive reasonable use of private property, just as they cannot take a person's freedom to worship or speak.
Though Greeley residents may have resented the ruling at first, it became a positive development. Since 1992, the city has nearly doubled in population to just under 100,000 residents and growing. People move there because the supply of good jobs exceeds the demand. Residents live amid more than 400 oil and gas wells, within city limits. They are so quiet and low profile it's hard to find one.
The fracking wells exist harmoniously with the community, even by the description of a resident who wants the city to stop allowing them. Here's what Sara Barwinski said of her neighborhood, as quoted recently in the Colorado Independent, before asking the Greeley planning commission to stop allowing wells.
"There's already drilling going on here," Barwinski said. "There are six vertical wells on the site . But there's also a school, a running track, houses, apartments. It's a beautiful area. There's a wetlands adjacent, a marsh that's a bird habitat. There's a hawk's nest. I'm just asking for balance."
She lives among six fracking wells in a "beautiful area." The wells coexist with a wetlands nature habitat, resident hawks, a school, houses, apartments and athletic facilities. It sounds like urban paradise, not a community fraught with industrial danger and blight.
The wells contribute high-paying jobs and millions in passive tax revenues that pay for nature conservation, schools and other public amenities that make the community healthier and wealthier by the day. Residents who used to toil for minimum wage pull in professional wages for minimum-skilled labor.
A struggling small town has become a wealthy small city.
"Today, the boom is credited with bringing in investment, creating jobs and job demand, impressive economic growth and increasing property values - not to mention healthy tax revenue," stated a Feb. 24 story on KUNC radio. That's not a Fox affiliate. It's public radio.
Greeley battled against fracking in the late '80s and early '90s. Enforcement of the law prevented a majority from depriving fundamental property rights that are used to produce wealth. As a result, the community and surrounding area have become the envy of Colorado and the rest of the United States. All thanks to fracking, an asset the Greeley once mistook as a burden.