Each year the Southern Colorado Economic Forum seeks to address pressing issues that affect the local economy — concerns such as the local jobless rate, real estate trends, the state of manufacturing or the local dependence on the military.
So what’s on tap this year? Infrastructure.
“It’s something that’s been on my mind lately, said UCCS finance professor and forum director Tom Zwirlein. “With all the calamity we’ve been hit with lately, flooding and fire, it’s an appropriate time to talk about it. It’s an important factor for any local economy, and it’s just one issue we’re looking at, but it’s a good one to put before our panelists.”
And Zwirlein was candid about some of his reasons for choosing the topic.
Investing in infrastructure could create jobs, and it’s a key factor in economic development.
— Tom Zwerlein,
[/pullquote]“It might be more out of frustration, honestly, from driving on these roads,” he said, “But in all seriousness, investing in infrastructure could create jobs, and it’s a key factor in economic development.”
Zwirlein said an upgraded infrastructure is a valuable selling point that can be used to convince companies to relocate to Colorado Springs.
“It’s what I call window dressing,” he said. “It’s one of the things a city can do to make itself look more attractive and sort of spiff things up.”
Ken Lund, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said infrastructure is one of the top things prospective employers consider when relocating.
“Our transportation system, our highways, our airports, our broadband, those are critical building blocks of economic development,” he said. “Companies want to see that there’s going to be an ease of doing business in the place they’re looking at.”
Lund noted that prospective employers are likely to rank a city’s talent and quality of life ahead of infrastructure, but that it would still be among the top 10 concerns.
And the good news, he said, is that Colorado has earned high marks for infrastructure.
“Colorado stacks up pretty strongly when compared with other states,” Lund said.
And that jibes with what the American Society of Civil Engineers has to say about Colorado.
The ASCE gave the state a C+ in its 2013 report card, which ranked states on number of infrastructure needs, including roads, bridges, wastewater management, dams, school building and energy advances.
The ASCE gave the nation overall a grade of D+.
To get to an A, the nation would have to make a five-year infrastructure investment of $2.2 trillion dollars.
And discussion about that type of investment is what Zwirlein hopes to create during this year’s forum panel discussion.
“I hope we can convince the audience that it’s what’s needed,” he said. “We’re adding jobs, but not enough jobs, and we can certainly use more economic development tools.”
17th Annual Southern Colorado Economic Forum Agenda
7 – 7:30 a.m. Registration
7:30 – 8 a.m. Breakfast
8 – 9 a.m. Keynote address, Jim Paulsen, Chief Investment Strategist, Wells Capital Management
9 – 10 a.m. Local economic conditions and 12- month outlook, UCCS Senior Economist Fred Crowley and forum director Tom Zwirlein
10 – 11:30 a.m. Panel discussion: “Working Together to Resolve Regional Issues”
• Dennis Hisey, chairman, El Paso County Commissioners
• Keith King, president, Colorado Springs City Council
• Marcus McGarity, chief financial officer, WHPacific
• Kevin O’Neil, CEO, The O’Neil Group Company
• Joe Raso, CEO, Regional Business Alliance
• Jon Stillman, vice president of corporate development, Bal Seal Engineering
• Moderator: John Hazlehurst, CSBJ, senior reporter