Gary Arnold

Ask any economist and they can positively point to milestones where output soared, and economies took off.  They signal pivotal events in the history of global economics. It would be fair to even call them launching pads.

But they don’t happen overnight, and change can be difficult to see at first.

Designed by automaker Henry Ford himself, the Ford Assembly line reinvented efficiency and workers’ production capacity. Ford’s method centered on specialization and leveraged technology through machinery. By 1929, 1,000 workers were turning out 400 cars each week compared to 200 workers producing 10 cars per week in 1909.

While we should never advocate going to war to stimulate job growth, America’s involvement in World War II in the early 1940s sparked unprecedented employment growth. As a nation, we were still reeling from the devastation of the Great Depression –unemployment hovered around 25%. The war changed that. American factories were retooled to produce goods to support the war effort and almost overnight the unemployment rate was cut by more than half. Not to mention, we have lasting, generational public works projects like Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, Arches National Park in Utah, and the Hoover Dam in Nevada to show for it.

Similarly, the mid-century Space Race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. yielded considerable employment opportunities. Countless skilled workers were trained in technical fields, including telecommunications, micro-technology, computer science and even solar power. By the end, the U.S. had spent about $25 billion on the program— well over $100 billion in today’s dollars.

All three aforementioned eras had a commonality: unity. Unity for the greater good. Unity for our national defense. Unity for our fellow countrymen. Unity to help others aboard. Americans have this inherent desire to help others. No matter what direction we expand our economy, I hope this is a trait we never outgrow.

America, and the Rocky Mountain region, has the opportunity to emerge a leader again with another generational milestone.

After ten years, on March 29th, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) finally approved the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Jordan Cove LNG project near the coast of Oregon and it could be a boon for Colorado. Yes, you read that correctly, a project nearly 1,400 miles northwest could mean huge work opportunities to the members of Pipefitters Local Union #208 in Denver.

Colorado is home to 4 United Association Locals and thousands of pipefitters, those who install, assemble, fabricate, maintain and repair mechanical piping systems. If the $10 billion Jordan Cove LNG project receives final approval, some 150+ United Association (UA) local labor organizations could be tapped for work. To give you a sense, that’s more than half of the total 275 UA locals in Canada and the United States.

Trained pipefitters can earn well into the six-figure category while supporting families and the local communities they live in. That’s 1,500 high-earning jobs that pass through, or are based here, that deploy and return when their work is completed. And all pipefitters are trained and prepared for a lifetime of projects which creates another generation of workers, apprentices and journeymen. It’s all a launching point, much like the space program was for our parents or grandparents.

There are many rural areas in Colorado and throughout the West that have not experienced or benefited like metro areas in the front range. The western half of Colorado (ten counties and counting) is in support of Jordan Cove. Western governors and tribes, too. And so are my union brothers and sisters.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this reminder. We used to be a nation that built things and not everything can live in the cloud. Just like the Space Race, energy is a national security and independence issue, as well as a foreign aid project which can deliver low-carbon LNG to energy-poor nations helping to raise their quality of living. But for a variety of reasons, the project has been bogged down in political mud and a vocal minority has heavily influenced its sense of urgency and merits. A ripple started here in Denver could send a tidal wave to our allies in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Pacific. It’s a domino effect that starts in Colorado, continues to the shores of Oregon and beyond, from the wellhead to burner tip, and everything in between.

The mission has been set. The experts are ready. Once Jordan Cove is finally approved, great-paying jobs in numerous sectors across the West could take off like a rocket.

Gary Arnold is Business Manager for Denver Pipefitters Local Union #208.