The issue:

Demographics are changing across El Paso County, the state of Colorado and the nation.

What we think:

It’s time to take the necessary steps to truly include everyone in the state’s thriving economy.

Tell us what you think:

Send us an email at editorial@csbj.com.

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Demographics in the United States — and in El Paso County — are shifting. The minority population is exploding across the nation, bringing a rich diversity to the country. Demographers say that Hispanics, for example, will outnumber other races in the next 50 years.

According to statistics given at the Colorado Springs Minority and Small Business Enterprise Diversity Summit last week, the nation’s growing diversity is reflected in the number of small businesses owned by minorities and women — and highlights the need for education, transportation and other improvements to provide the resources and support for the state’s small business environment to grow, thrive and innovate.

Right now, there are about 11 million minority-owned small businesses in the United States, up from 8 million in 2012. In the latest available information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was a 38 percent increase in minority-owned businesses from 2007-2012. Data from 2012-2017 is not yet available.

And it’s not small potatoes — minority businesses employ more than 6.3 million people and generated about $1.7 trillion in 2017, according to government estimates.

As the population grows and changes, minority-owned businesses will gain firmer footing in the city and state’s economic fabric. And that’s a good thing.

But as the demographics change, we need to make sure we’re addressing the needs of at-risk communities. As Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said at the event:  “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being allowed to dance.” We need to create a level playing field, so everyone — regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, gender identity — can participate in a thriving economy. And we need to do it now to prepare for an even brighter future.

We need to make sure minorities, including women, have an equal opportunity for careers and businesses in science, technology, engineering and math. We need to find inexpensive pathways to higher education for high school kids across the Pikes Peak region. We need to improve transportation so all neighborhoods have access to the resources at Pikes Peak Community College, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and UCCS.

We need to raise awareness of the benefits of diversity in business — and how it promotes national economic growth. Minority-owned businesses are more likely to export their products, bringing outside revenue to the local economy. Minority-owned businesses that survive the first year grow faster: 43 percent of them grow at a rate of 11 percent or more a year. Only 33 percent of other businesses see that growth rate.

We need to promote neighborhood initiatives, like the Thrive project that Taj Stokes is spearheading in southeast Colorado Springs. Stokes is preparing a new generation of business owners by providing them with the tools they need to get started. Aikta Marcoulier at the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center developed a weekend training program on the city’s southeast side, working with residents on initiatives that will build business and improve the economy at the grass-roots level.

We need to promote diversity in the startup community, in tech jobs and in the high-tech fields of cybersecurity. Reaching out to people of different races, genders, backgrounds and ethnicities will only strengthen our startup ecosystem as people bring new perspectives to old problems.

Consider that minority-owned businesses are younger, with 40 percent under the age of 40. They are more likely to use technology as well, which means the startup community can benefit from a wider swath of small businesses owned by women and minorities.

It’s time to embrace diversity and create a sense of equal opportunity in Colorado Springs. We live in a city that embraced equality from its earliest days, so let’s make sure that everyone’s welcome in the Colorado Springs business community. n CSBJ