Jobs and the economy -- that's the topic of conversation for U.S. Senator Mark Udall as he takes a two day tour of the Western Slope this week.
The day started off on a light note, as Senator Mark Udall celebrated the opening of his Downtown Grand Junction office. But his tone quickly changed as he acknowledged the tough times that have fallen on Coloardans.
"I'm not happy," said Udall. "I share their disappointment, their worry, their concern. We've lost about two-hundred thousand jobs here in Colorado. Our unemployment rate is about seven and a half percent. That's not acceptable."
And perhaps no one in Western Colorado has felt those effects more than the oil and gas industry. Rig counts in the Piceance Basin have dropped 68 percent from last year, and dozens of workers have been laid off. Udall says the energy sector is vital not only for Colorado's economy but also for the country's energy independent future.
"We'll need natural gas, we'll need oil," said Udall. "We'll also need to harvest the sun and the wind that's so abundant in Colorado."
With $3 billion in federal stimulus money coming to the state --
"It makes investments in the future, it will see America regaining its strength," said Udall.
-- and specifically $130 million going towards energy and efficiency related projects, Udall is hopeful many of those workers will find themselves back on the job soon.
"Those same skills that are used in the oil and gas industry will be very useful in erecting wind turbines, putting solar displays in place, and making sure we have a new, twenty-first century transmission system," said Udall.
But he says energy alone won't fix the state's economic woes.
"In the end, it's about having a diverse economy and not being overly dependent on one particular economic activity," said Udall. "And I think Western Colorado is well situated to do that."
Udall says that's why he's spending time at the Grand Junction VA and other area hospitals to discuss health care reform, and meeting with local farmers and businesses to discuss jobs in local communities.
"I want to hear from people in the workforce to hear what we can do to get our economy back on its feet," said Udall.
Between his two day visit and opening an office in the Grand Valley, he says he's committed to doing just that.
Senator Udall will tour businesses and meet with leaders in Rifle and Vail Wednesday. His new office is located in the Wayne Aspinall Federal Building at 400 Rood Avenue.