The issue: 

Wages in El Paso County track lower than counterparts across the state and the nation.

What we think: 

In order to grow their companies, create jobs and help sustain our economic growth, business owners need to increase wages.

El  Paso  County businesses are facing a dilemma that comes from a robust economy with specialized jobs — not enough talent in the pipeline to fill current, much less future, needs.

Currently, there are 12,689 job openings in the Springs, but only 8,304 people looking for work, according to statistics gathered from the UCCS Economic Forum. And that sounds like a good thing, right?

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But the challenge is more complex than just training workers for the available jobs. Trade and technical schools, colleges and universities are shifting curriculum to better match employer needs. The Pikes Peak Workforce Center offers classes to help; and the Mt. Carmel Center is on board, working to ensure that transitioning veterans have the right skill sets and training for civilian jobs.

At this point it’s low wages, not lack of worker education, that’s hurting us the most, with county salaries far below state and national averages. Well-educated and well-trained workers can find jobs elsewhere that pay much better. The issue is compounded by higher housing costs and rising rents in other parts of the state — meaning people are moving here and commuting to Denver, a trend that is causing a corresponding hike in housing costs in the Springs. And although many workers are attracted to our mountain vistas and outdoor lifestyle, they can’t eat scenery.

If wages remain stagnant, the city won’t be able to compete for workers. It’s already started to affect new job growth. In 2015, new jobs grew by 48 percent, but there was only a slight increase in 2016 despite the number of job postings — and economists tie the slowdown in new jobs to stagnant wages.

“It will certainly be difficult for us to continue to lure people back into the labor force if our wages are not at least at par with U.S. averages,” said Tatiana Bailey, director of the Economic Forum in a June issue of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. “For the vast majority of industries, El Paso County wages lag behind Colorado and U.S. wages, and it is now evident that the wage discrepancies are likely hindering business growth via the low supply of labor.”

Look at the stats: In fields like construction, El Paso County wages are 12.8 percent lower than in the rest of the United States and 10.8 percent lower than in the rest of the state. In manufacturing, wages are 10.9 percent lower than the state’s and 8.9 percent lower than the national average.

And educator pay is 5 percent lower than the state average and 24 percent lower than the national average.

It isn’t a lack of education or a lack of jobs. Education levels are above the national average; employers are looking for workers. But the region’s wages have failed to keep pace with the current employment reality, and that leads to a less competitive economy.

This is one of those issues that can only be solved by individual CEOs and business owners. If they can’t find the workers they need with the right skill set, maybe they should take a look at their pay structure, compare it to Denver’s wages or Fort Collins’ or Boulder’s.

If businesses cannot grow here, then the economy won’t grow either — stagnant wages will hold us back.