Thursday morning, about 100 people gathered at the Doubletree World Arena hotel to learn more about the city and state’s economic drivers — and how they can get involved to assist in strengthening the local economy.
Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau; Andy Merritt, chief defense officer at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance; Tatiana Bailey, executive director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum and Jay Lindell, aerospace champion for the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, all discussed how health care, defense, aerospace and tourism shape both the local and state economies.
Travel and tourism
According to Price, the travel industry in Colorado Springs has been on a hot streak.
“Tourism in the Springs right now is as good as it’s ever been, with this caveat: Adjusted for inflation, 1997 was the best year tourism ever had in this community, and it was the last year Western Pacific [Airlines] flew here,” Price said in an earlier interview with the Business Journal, adding that Frontier Airlines’ new direct flights between Colorado Springs Airport and Las Vegas and (beginning in June) to Phoenix could propel the industry beyond that old record.
“People need to be able to get here,” he told the crowd. “We get asked two questions when we go to trade shows: Where is Colorado Springs? and Do you have an airport?”
Money to market the city’s tourism is in short supply, he said.
“Big picture, I want people to understand how the lodging and auto rental tax collected really saves people money in this community, because those taxes are generated through tourist spending,” he said. The tax includes a 1 percent levy on car rentals and 2 percent on lodging rentals.
“Some people call them visitors,” he said Thursday. “I call them temporary tax payers. They come here, they spend money and then they take their problems and go home.”
Price told the audience that he expects to ask the residents of Colorado Springs to increase the lodging and auto rental tax next year — it falls far below the Springs’ competitors and hasn’t changed since the 1980s. For instance, Denver’s LART is more than 10 percent.
Colorado is a great fit for the aerospace ecosystem, according to Lindell.
“The sector is very dynamic and vibrant and is a great catalyst for economic growth in the state,” he said in an interview with the CSBJ.
Lindell said Colorado is desirable for companies to expand or relocate because of the access to talent and the lifestyle, adding the state’s aerospace economy is growing faster than the national average.
“Even when there was a downturn due to budget declines, Colorado’s heavy Department of Defense industry sector still maintained at least its economic baseline, where other states declined,” he said.
Lindell said El Paso County has a particularly abundant talent supply due to its heavy military and veteran presence.
“There’s a lot of talent that comes out of defense-oriented businesses,” he said.
Lindell told the crowd about touring the Global Positioning System operational center at Schriever Air Force Base.
“There are 3 billion devices around the world accessing GPS,” he said.”It is what drives nearly every industry — and it’s here in Colorado Springs.”
Health care is one industry that is recession-proof, said Bailey, showing detailed slides of how the industry grew even during the Great Recession when some industries saw cuts.
“Health care is like food,” she said. “We always need it.”
What’s changing is the way it’s delivered. Both the federal government and insurance companies are focusing on preventive care — a less expensive way of managing health care than addressing problems after they occur.
Bailey also pointed out that Colorado remains one of the healthiest states — showing the growing rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes across the nation. Colorado is one of a handful of states resisting the trend.
“We really are healthy,” she said. “And we’re known for that — for our outdoor lifestyle. We should capitalize on that.”
According to the Regional Business Alliance, the Pikes Peak region has more than 100 aerospace and defense, and more than 200 high-tech companies in operation.
Merritt discussed the region’s diverse military and defense presence, which includes five military installations, but also operations of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command, Air Force Space Command, U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command, Missile Defense Integrated Operations Center, Air Force Academy, Joint Functional Component Command/Integrated Missile Defense and the National Security Space Institute.
The defense industry in the state equals the agricultural industry in terms of economic impact. The state’s six bases bring in $5.5 billion in economic impact, he told the audience. Military construction is down, but Fort Carson remains a bright spot for the city. It’s the only military base in the country that has the flexibility to address problems in Russia, Europe, the Pacific and the Middle East.
“Fort Carson really stands out,” Merritt said. “It hasn’t lost any of its brigade combat units.”
The Catalyst Campus’s cyber efforts, the Air Force’s Cyber Innovation Center and the state’s National Cyber Intelligence Center will all be economic drivers as the city moves toward a bigger slice of the cybersecurity industry, he said.
To learn more about each industry sector, click here to see the slides from the event.