UCCS Economic Forum about optimism

Statistics and optimism reigned at the 20th Annual UCCS Economic Forum, formerly the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, which took place at The Broadmoor hotel Oct. 14.

Presentations, in part, included Tatiana Bailey of the university’s college of business and director of the forum speaking about the Pikes Peak region; a keynote by Wells Fargo economist Jim Paulsen; introductory remarks by Mayor John Suthers; and an appearance by Governor John Hickenlooper.

Suthers began by saying the economy of the city is the “absolute baseline for everything we want to do.” He said that includes the city’s job market, public safety, infrastructure, health care and quality of life.

The economic climate in the Pikes Peak region is “quite good,” he said.

In 2015, the county created 9,000 new jobs and Suthers said 2016 appears it will conclude with healthy numbers.

He addressed workforce issues, saying there are too few workers to fill available positions, and added the average salary in the region is more than $60,000.

The mayor said the real estate market is robust, health care has recently invested almost $1 billion in the city and the sports economy is growing with plans for a sports medicine facility at UCCS and the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame. He also addressed the healthier Colorado Springs Airport, which has seen more flights and the return of Frontier Airlines.

Suthers said there are challenges, to include a shortage of affordable housing and the city’s homeless population. In addition to a workforce shortage, there are also workforce development issues, he said, adding jobs exist that pay upwards of $70,000 in welding, but no qualified workers to fill them.

To applause, Suthers said I-25 must be expanded to three lanes between Monument and Castle Rock.

Bailey and the region

Among the statistics provided about the region, Bailey said city’s Gross Metropolitan Product per capita saw about 1 percent growth in 2015, below the 1.6 percent national rate. But when not adjusted for inflation, the region is doing “really well,” Bailey said.

“We’re at 4.5 percent. The U.S. metro areas increased 3.8 percent, so we beat them,” she said. “Colorado Springs, in fact, on a nominal GMP basis ranked 84 out of the 382 [Metropolitan Statistical Area].”

Growing industries across all MSAs included professional business services, finance, real estate and rental and leasing markets.

Regarding the local job market, Bailey said the area was slowly making its way back from the recession, and 2013 and 2014 saw about 5,000 new jobs each year, but 2015 saw a 40 percent increase in new jobs, “which is pretty remarkable.”

According to data from the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, there were just more than 12,000 job openings in September. Median salary was almost $67,000, higher than the state median. Software engineers are the most in demand, followed closely by other professional occupations to include registered nurses and systems engineers.

As for pay, the state weekly wage average is $1,057. El Paso County is well below at $877. Bailey said some of that disparity may be due to the high number of transient military families and spouses who work lower-wage jobs.

Bailey said both commercial and residential real estate were strong in the region, adding both are more affordable when compared to Front Range peers. Inventory on the commercial side, especially industrial and warehouse, is low, however.

To conclude, Bailey said maintaining a healthy economy comes down to best practices in regional economic development.

Healthy communities studied have a “clear focus” that includes both short- and long-term goals and associated timelines, she said. They include all the different leadership entities whose mission revolve around those goals.

“Communities that are smart have a coordinator who tracks community-wide progress,” she said, adding goals are, “always privately and publicly owned.”

Successful communities identify strengths and weaknesses, she said, using projections to identify high-growth business sectors and plan to support growth with investment.

“Have buy-in and participation from all the relevant community players,” she said.

Finally, Bailey said to be sure the community is measuring progress through easy-to-track metrics and milestones.

“So, celebrate what’s going well and then focus on what still needs to be done and get to work at it,” she said.