Fred Crowley moved to Colorado Springs 15 years ago from the Northeast, ready in his late 40s to step away from his life as an economist. He arrived here in 1998, amid the best times for Colorado Springs and its local economy.

Soon, Crowley was turning his planned early retirement into a second career, first with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, then on the faculty at UCCS and with the annual Southern Colorado Economic Forum. His presence and his obvious expertise, with a Ph.D. in regional economic planning followed by years in academics, turned out to be fortuitous for the Pikes Peak region, indeed for the entire Front Range.

As the local business scene endured difficult times in the aftermath of 9/11, later losing quality jobs by the thousands and then grappling for stability during the Great Recession, Crowley took on a different kind of role.

Crowley has spent the past five or so years as Colorado Springs’ No. 1 realist. Never too optimistic, but also never fatalistic. Every few months, he would resurface at an event or in an expert-observer status with local media, analyzing the latest major economic developments.

But now, at 63, Crowley has decided to “really” retire. Last week brought his farewell appearance at the UCCS-led Economic Forum, complete with lavish praise, a plaque of appreciation and a standing ovation from the crowd of about 450 civic, business and political leaders.

[pullquote]Crowley has spent the past five or so years as Colorado Springs’ No. 1 realist. Never too optimistic, but also never fatalistic.[/pullquote]

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This surely wasn’t the last we’ll ever hear from Crowley, but his SCEF presentation typified what we’ve come to respect about him through the years. He’s beholden to no person, entity or cause, which makes his assessments all the more credible.

Actually, most of Crowley’s departing themes amplified what he’s been saying all year, and in some cases since the recession. He sees the single-family homes in residential real estate as “really driving” the local scene, helped by healthy car sales. Obviously, as destructive as the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires were, the silver lining has become a steady surge in the home-building industry. Then there’s health care, with progress and competition between Memorial and Penrose-St. Francis hospitals producing 2,000 more jobs.

But Crowley clearly doesn’t subscribe to the theory that a job is a job is a job. To the end, he bemoaned the loss of manufacturing jobs by the thousands, most of which in his view are being replaced by lower-paying, less-impactful jobs.

Because of that, and because of the defense-related government budget cuts, Crowley has been telling us the past few years that our recovery doesn’t look like the new economic momentum in Denver and the northern Front Range. But, he makes it clear, that could change if and when Colorado Springs can attract more manufacturing jobs again.

We’ve obviously heard that before, but Crowley wants to make sure we don’t forget it. He lives here, just as we do, and he wants the area economy to prosper once more. But he also believes that we can’t make it there without a clear view of where we are and what we still need.

That’s been Fred Crowley’s responsibility as our own determined economic realist. We thank him for his savvy, for his sincerity and for his candor.