Despite economic progress, issues remain for Colorado Springs.
What we think:
Leaders need to find solutions to affordable housing, wage gaps and other issues.
This year will be remembered as the one in which Colorado Springs residents approved funding for schools, for stormwater infrastructure and to help fix the transportation problems on Interstate 25. It’s the year the city decided to take the lead in high-tech broadband by becoming part of U.S. Ignite.
The stormwater infrastructure funding will assuage the Environmental Protection Agency’s concerns about flooding and water safety issues in the city. It might even end the EPA’s lawsuit against Colorado Springs. It certainly will improve our relationship with Pueblo, the neighbor to the south forced to deal with the city’s decades-long lack of action to rebuild and repair infrastructure.
Colorado Springs School District 11 also ended the year with more money coming to fix its infrastructure and upgrade schools and equipment to meet 21st century educational needs. And the discussion continues on closing the Martin Drake Power Plant — more than six decades old and running on coal — sooner than 2035.
But that’s not all the good news.
The Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce took the lead in bringing the city into the 21st century by aligning it with the US Ignite program. CEO Lola Woloch recently told chamber members that the first round of fundraising was complete, and the city would move forward with the program. US Ignite will allow the Springs to use ultra-high-speed internet for business and educational needs. The goal of the program is to leverage the internet to bring innovation and discovery into businesses and schools.
And while the economy is booming — there are three cranes downtown at the end of the year, and that’s three more than this time in 2016 — there are still challenges ahead and problems to solve.
Affordable housing is a dream for many local residents, as rents rise and landlords decline to take federal housing vouchers because of the tight market. The average home price continues to climb in the Springs, as workers from Denver seek cheaper markets and add to the tight housing inventory.
And businesses still struggle with failed drug tests from legal marijuana and an increased opioid presence in El Paso County. Manufacturers, construction companies and other firms can’t find workers who can pass a drug test which, in turn, increases the cost of labor and adds to the final costs of products.
Wages in El Paso County remain lower than those in the state’s other metropolitan areas, and add to the affordable housing conundrum. If we can pay competitive salaries, young professionals struggling under a mountain of student loan debt might not leave for greener pastures.
As 2017 becomes 2018, these thorny issues are begging for solutions. Let’s not let them go unresolved for another year.