The latest economic numbers show Colorado leading the nation, but there are still areas of concern.
What we think:
The city and state need to plan now for stormy economic times.
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Colorado is on course to enjoy the longest period of economic growth in its history; unemployment is at 2.3 percent — the lowest in the country.
The state is set to continue the unparalleled expansion that has gone on for eight years since the Great Recession. Productivity is good and the state seems to be the envy of the rest of the nation in terms of job growth and economic development.
But there are storm clouds ahead in the shape of affordable housing, workforce development and the specter of inflation as the cost of doing business in Colorado rises and wages stay flat. Some areas of the state and the Front Range have been left out of the economic resurgence, notably the rural areas of Colorado and the southeast side of Colorado Springs.
While the recession is firmly in our rearview mirror, there are economic problems to solve. How do we create the right kind of workforce with today’s middle- and high-school students to make sure the economy meets 21st century needs — and beyond? What role will automation and cybersecurity play in future workforce development? With construction costs increasing, how do we build affordable housing? How do we make sure this rising tide really lifts every boat, even those in rural areas?
Fortunately, we have smart, dedicated people developing the right mix of jobs and the right workforce for those positions, revitalizing southeast Colorado Springs and creating economic, cultural and tourism opportunities.
People like United Way’s Cindy Aubrey, who started Colorado Springs Promise to help improve local graduation rates. Or Linda Weise, who has built the Colorado Springs Conservatory into a training ground for students interested in the arts, but with enough discipline to compete in any field, in any university. Or UCCS Chancellor Venkat Reddy, who understands the current business climate and what the city needs from its major public institution. Or the Chamber of Commerce & EDC’s efforts to grow local industry and attract new business.
Leaders have emerged in technology education and training. Ed Rios now heads the promising National Cybersecurity Center, which will need the city’s entire support as it starts to provide much-needed services to businesses and government officials. The Pikes Peak Workforce Center has a new leader in Lisa Rice, who will bolster the agency’s efforts to make sure workers have the relevant skills they need to compete.
But as housing prices continue to rise — and the cost of doing business also increases — it will require a concerted effort to keep the economy from entering an inflationary period. Businesses automatically push those costs on to customers, and with increasing outlays for housing added to the burden of student debt for Millennials, costs could make Colorado much less appealing to businesses and job seekers considering a move to the state.
As we celebrate our economic successes, we meet the challenge head on. If we invest now, it will be easier to weather the downturn.