Colorado Springs a ‘low-key’ magnet for millennials

By: Rachel Riley

February 9, 2017 Updated: Today at 6:10 am
Many of the shop’s Thursday morning customers – a wedding planner, a business owner, a podcast host, an online magazine editor – had something in common: They are millennials.

The cohort is typically thought to include people born after 1980, ranging in age from 20 to their mid-30s. Popular culture and mainstream media have assigned the group a slew of reputations, from lazy to overworked, detached to passionate.

The generation received a shoutout from Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday at a local recap of his State of the State address at The Antlers hotel, where he called Colorado a top destination for millennial college graduates.

In Colorado Springs, people between the ages of 20 and 34 made up roughly 22 percent of the population in 2015 – roughly the same as the rate measured in 2010, according to most recently available data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

But the number of millenials who are moving to the city is on the rise, according to the survey. People between the ages of 18 and 34, who had moved to Colorado Springs from a different state or county, totaled more than 109,000 in 2015 – up by more than 15,000 people from 2010.

Theories behind the increase vary, from the city’s relatively low cost of living compared to the Denver and Boulder areas, to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Customers at Loyal Coffee, a millennial hangout that opened on South Nevada Avenue in the fall, offered a good snapshot of Colorado Springs’ appeal.

“This is the land of opportunity right now,” said Seth Enos, 25, a recent transplant from Charlotte, N.C., who started a pop-up coffee shop business with his wife. “I’ve grown to really appreciate Colorado Springs because it has room for people like me, who are entrepreneurs, to get in on the ground floor and make the city what we want it to be.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Cameron Kinney, who moved to the Springs in recent years when his wife got a job at the locally based Christian youth ministry Young Life, called the city “up-and-coming.”

“This has the Colorado feel, but it’s less expensive and more low-key,” said Kinney, who works for a small crowdfunding company.

Long-term millennial residents cited changes in the Springs’ arts and culture scenes, the city’s deviation from its strictly conservative reputation and the opening of new businesses like Loyal.

“Colorado Springs has changed so much in the last few years, and a lot of those changes are positive,” said 35-year-old Darcie Nolan, who co-hosts a weekly podcast that targets millennial audiences.

Many are drawn to the Springs by the growing availability of jobs in technology, business and startup fields and the exceptional opportunities the state offers for “work-life balance,” said Scott Van Ness, an instructor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who is leading a workshop series with the Southern Colorado Better Business Bureau on millennials in the workplace.

“We’re talking about outdoor activities, healthy lifestyles, friendly people,” he said. “Colorado is a great fit for that.”

In a February study by the El Pomar Foundation, entitled “Mountains Matter to Millennials,” members of the generation who were surveyed chose access to outdoor activities and natural features as the top two strengths of the Pikes Peak region.

Some millennials are assigned to a local military base and like the area enough to stay when they are no longer in service, Van Ness added.

Still, the growth of Denver exceeds Colorado Springs, even when population is taken into account, according to the American Community Survey. People who had moved to the Denver area from another state or county made up about 19.6 percent of the population in 2015, compared to about 14.2 percent of the population in Colorado Springs.

But El Paso County’s millennial population is projected to increase in the coming years – and with that, the workforce is likely to grow, more businesses are expected to open, and more people could have the opportunity to earn enough money to begin investing in other local companies, said Tatiana Bailey, director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum.

“It really is just a matter of time before you start seeing some of the same things that have happened in Denver,” said Bailey. “We’re on the right path, but we just have to keep chugging along.”

Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108