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Managing growth, maintaining vitality
It’s anticipated that by 2020 Colorado Springs will have nearly 20,000 more people since 2020. The time is right to start planning for that growth — or face the consequences that come with unmanaged development.
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The watchword for Colorado Springs in 2017 is growth — how to manage the additional population, how to create a vibrant economy for job growth, how to handle more traffic, address higher demands for schools and develop workforce talent so the population’s skills match business needs.
We also need to figure out a way to invite more people to take part in the public process, join groups that are deciding the city’s and county’s future in the next 10 years — and that want to help create the road map of how to get there.
The Business Journal wants to be a catalyst for the conversation. Throughout 2017, readers will find articles about managing stormwater infrastructure, meeting transportation needs, creating affordable housing options and discovering new ways to attract young professionals, as well as the plans of educational groups working to create the future workforce.
The goal is to start the debate about what steps we take now to prepare for future growth — and to make room for the growth that’s already happening.
We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are positive it’s time to start asking the right questions of our government and civic leaders.
And it’s time that all organizations — from business groups like the Chamber of Commerce & EDC to marketing organizations like the Convention & Visitors Bureau to leaders at City Hall — respond to residents’ needs for planning and information with the appropriate amount of transparency.
(This means fewer executive sessions by city council, all action taken in the public view and quick responses to residents’ questions about utilities, stormwater, lawsuits, Banning Lewis Ranch, the U.S. Olympic Museum and a host of other city issues.)
We’re going to focus on how to manage growth in the city — covering areas that are ripe for development, in need of immediate attention or important to the city’s future, so the city can continue its forward march toward improving economic vitality.
It’s time to examine long-held attitudes in Colorado Springs, and discard those that hamper business growth and development. We need to embrace the culture that encourages high-tech companies to relocate here in order to continue to move toward becoming the cybersecurity capital of the United States.
Colorado Springs is headed in the right direction. Business is booming here. Downtown is capitalizing on the new, post-recession energy. The undeveloped area that has been known as No Man’s Land is finally seeing investments from all governments that oversee that stretch of West Colorado Avenue. Real estate sales and prices are climbing; people across the state view Colorado Springs as an affordable, family-friendly city. Commercial developments are under construction or in planning phases in the northern sector of El Paso County. After the rocky years, all the growth and development is good news for Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado.
But there are areas of concern: Foreclosures in Fountain were up 12 percent over last year, the only place in El Paso County that saw an increase. Homelessness and vagrancy seem to be on the rise as well. As the city begins to develop plans to keep people from panhandling in the city’s medians, the question looms: How can we solve the homeless issue while protecting business interests and treating people with compassion?
1. Infrastructure. We’re not just interested in widening Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock, we’re also interested in knowing how the city plans to deal with stormwater infrastructure and a backlog of road and bridge repairs. Remember, an independent committee suggested the price tag could reach $1 billion.
2. Workforce. If Southern Colorado is going to be the top choice for the high-tech, cybersecurity industry, we need the workforce to match it. That also means we need to develop the skills for manufacturing, construction and other mid-skills jobs that are currently going unfilled in Colorado Springs.
3. Health care. As regulations change on the national level for health insurance, hospitals and doctors must be nimble in order to address the overarching needs of the population. Primary care doctors, psychiatrists and other providers are in short supply in the Colorado Springs area. As we grow, we’ll need to recruit more doctors to meet the burgeoning need.
4. Entrepreneurism and innovation. Both thrive inside cities with risk-taking cultures. Neither can thrive without support from venture capitalists or angel investors — usually in short supply in the Springs. As the city grows, the need for investment in new, innovative companies will grow as well.
5. Real estate. Housing prices are up; inventory is down. Foreclosures are at their lowest since 1999. Affordability is not yet an issue, but housing at the lower price points is in short supply. As interest rates increase, the seller’s market could switch to a buyer’s market.
6. Young professionals. Retaining young professionals as they graduate from college or move into mid-level careers is vital to the city’s growth and to attract new businesses.
7. Arts and culture. We’ll need a vibrant, robust arts and culture community to keep residents interested and engaged. With the partnership between Colorado College and the Fine Arts Center underway, the ability to attract nationally recognized artists to Colorado Springs is necessary to continue to attract visitors. At the same time, we’ll need to nurture our local artists, musicians and theatrical talent.
8. Downtown. As downtown’s retail space fills, there’s one thing still lagging: available housing. We’re catching up, but there’s still some work to do.
9. Regionalism. If we all work together, we’ll all succeed together. We need to work closely with neighboring cities in Southern Colorado — in a global economy, it makes sense to combine our strengths and work together to address weaknesses.
10. Defense. As federal budgets remain tight, fending off downsizing and other threats to the military presence in Colorado Springs is vital to the government-contracting sector. Keeping a close eye on events in Washington, D.C., is vital — what happens there will affect us here.
(Editor’s Note: The original article had the growth at 200,000 by 2020.)