The 2014 State of the Region address, a joint presentation by El Paso County and the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, provided an optimistic, yet generic, review of the past year’s local economy.

The annual event Dec. 11 at the Antlers Hotel featured little new information aside from an optimistic keynote speech by El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey (District 4), which highlighted the region’s continued economic recovery from years marred by fire and flooding.

“A year ago I noted that the state of the region was improving and predicted that, absent any new historic disasters, it would continue to improve through 2014,” Hisey said. “Being an optimistic guy, I generally see the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty, but this year I want to suggest to you that our regional glass is more than half-full.”

During Hisey’s introduction, Regional Business Alliance Board Chair Tom Neppl announced the details of a search committee to find a new CEO for the organization.

Neppl said that the committee was recently organized to find a replacement for Business Alliance President and CEO Joe Raso, who exited that position last month. The committee will be headed by former Ent Federal Credit Union CEO Charles Emmer, Neppl said, and is charged with choosing a candidate in January.

“To set the record straight: We do have a local preference,” Neppl said. “However, we are not limiting the search to a local candidate. … We do recognize the importance of this position in our community.”

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During his address, Hisey reported a few optimistic numbers for El Paso County in 2014, compared to 2013:

• Sales and use tax collections are up 5.4 percent.

• New car registrations are up more than 10 percent.

• Foreclosures are down about 3 percent.

• Unemployment is down to 4.7 percent, compared to 7.6 percent last year.

Hisey went on to report some statistics he referred to as “not so good”: Building permits issued for new single-family homes are down 5.5 percent, the total value of building permits is down 18.7 percent, mortgage payoffs and default cures are down nearly 30 percent and 70,000 residents qualify for food stamps each month.

But Hisey stuck to optimism.

A strong positive theme in his presentation was that no natural disasters threatened the Pikes Peak region during the summer of 2014. Through collaborative efforts and federal funding, he said, disaster-affected entities including Manitou Springs and the Royal Gorge were able to bounce back for this year’s tourist season (at least in part).

“Don’t be fooled — big storms are still a big threat,” he said. “But as a region, we are moving along steadily on the road to recovery.”

Hisey also mentioned that, judging from his own observations, the Colorado Springs Airport is on the verge of what appears to be a long-awaited comeback.

“Long-vacant airport buildings are now humming with activity, and more job-creating businesses are looking to develop or expand in the newly created zone,” he said. “What’s really exciting about all of this is that each of these new tenants on airport property helps to reduce the costs of airport operations, which are passed on to the airlines flying in and out of here. As their costs go down we become attractive for more flights — something we can all appreciate.”

Several local leaders were also honored during the event:

• Colorado Springs City Council-member Jan Martin, in her eighth and final year before being term-limited, received the Regional Leader of the Year award;

• Colorado Springs Airport Director Dan Gallagher received the Public Employee of the Year award;

• Colorado Springs Sports Corp. President and CEO Tom Osborne accepted his organization’s Economic Development Project of the Year award;

• Pikes Peak United Way President Jason Wood received the Making a Difference award; and

• Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau President Doug Price received the Person of Influence award.

Hisey ended his presentation with a call to action:

“It’s up to us,” he said, “to demonstrate innovation, promote tourism, build infrastructure and develop a skilled workforce.” n CSBJ