For Pueblo: What happened when a local publisher sought public funding

Columbia Journalism Review: If you ask around about Pueblo, a city in southern Colorado built on steel and coal, people from there describe it as proud, resilient, tough. A Latino-majority union town, it’s long been a Democratic stronghold—the area went for Trump in 2016, but in 2020, it flipped back to Biden. People here love their green chile, their heritage, the fact that they’re not in Boulder. Still, there are certain advantages to being in Boulder. Following the crash of the steel industry, in 1981, Pueblo suffered immensely; countywide unemployment peaked at 18.9 percent. By the end of the decade, Colorado Fuel & Iron, or CF&I, the owner of the city’s steel mill, declared bankruptcy. The town’s leaders—including Robert Rawlings, the longtime publisher of the Pueblo Chieftain, the state’s oldest daily—sought to diversify the local economy by imposing a half-cent sales tax and creating a nonprofit called the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, known as pedco, that counsels the city on how to attract new businesses. Some employers brought hope, notably Vestas, a wind turbine manufacturer; others have come and gone. The city of Pueblo now has a poverty rate of about 24 percent, more than twice the statewide average. According to the latest available data, more than 40 percent of the county’s population relies on Medicaid for health insurance.

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