Army Fort Carson

Colorado Springs’ greatest resource is not its snowcapped mountains, or its miles of green space, or its favorable climate.

So what does keep Olympic City USA ranked among the nation’s most desirable places? Its residents.

The Army veteran who started a family in the Springs after retirement. The hundreds of professional athletes perennially striving for glory at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. The numerous educators, working to make sure residents are never wanting for opportunities in the Pikes Peak region.

Athletes welcome

Kendall Utz’s work has taken her as far as Sydney and Abu Dhabi, but her passion never burns brighter than in her hometown of Olympic City USA.

“The Olympics have always been something I’m very passionate about,” said Utz, director of customer success at Fusesport, a sporting event management software company headquartered in Colorado Springs. “I love the idea of the camaraderie and how the whole world stops during that time and puts aside their differences — everybody becomes an equal.

“With having the Olympic movement here, it definitely has kept me within Colorado Springs.”

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After graduating from Palmer High School, Utz moved out of state to play volleyball at Florida Atlantic University. Two years later, she transferred to UCCS, where she completed her degree in sports management.

Since then, she has worked with national organizations such as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and USA Taekwondo, but her hometown’s Olympic movement keeps reeling her back in.

“It’s allowed me to connect with like-minded people, as well as further my knowledge of the industry, which is something I’m very passionate about. [Sports] is always something that’s been very close to me and has been my support system,” Utz said. “There are very few places I go to that I can’t make a connection with someone.”

Since the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee moved its headquarters to Colorado Springs from New York City in 1978, both the committee and the city have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, said Mark Jones, the committee’s vice president of communications.

“Colorado Springs is our home,” Jones said. “We are incredibly grateful and committed to playing a leadership role in the community, and that definitely includes the amazing athletes lucky enough to live here.”

The city’s financial contribution to the committee has not been insignificant, Jones said. A $40 million city-funded initiative package drawn up in 2009 kept USOPC headquarters in the Springs, and gave athletes a new strength and conditioning building and an updated sports medicine and recovery building, according to Business Journal archives.

“The training center of 2019 is a very different place than it was 10 years ago, and that’s thanks in part to the generous contributions from the city and its taxpayers,” Jones said.

On a less tangible level, the Springs’ dedication to the Olympic City USA brand manifests in all sorts of ways, Jones said — from cheering on the athletes at events to welcoming them into their schools and businesses.

“The athletes that live and train here feel extraordinarily lucky,” he said.

That includes Utz.

“Having the Olympic committee and so many national governing bodies… it’s just kind of a mecca in regards to the sporting world,” she said. “It does draw in a lot of young professionals from around the nation that are very passionate about sports. … They do a great job of creating a community within that. “Once you’re in Colorado Springs, you have an understanding of why exactly we are so prevalent when it comes to the Olympic movement.”

Playing defense

The relationship between the Colorado Springs business community and members of the military predates many of the current installations.

“The Colorado Springs business community first began reaching out to the military community in 1941 with Camp Carson,” said Reggie Ash, chief defense development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.

Time has only strengthened that relationship, Ash said. Fort Carson alone brought in about $2.2 billion to Colorado Springs and the surrounding communities during fiscal year 2018, according to representatives.

More than 24,000 active duty service members, 30,000 family members, and 5,500 Department of the Army civilians “live, work and play in this area,” Fort Carson representatives said.

With anywhere from 85,000 to 105,000 veterans in El Paso County — and veterans and members of the defense sector accounting for more than 40 percent of the local economy — the Department of Defense culture permeates the Pikes Peak region, Ash said.

“In addition to natural beauty and other great things, that culture is what makes military members want to settle in this area,” he said.

Five military installations and more than 250 aerospace and defense companies make Colorado Springs an ideal destination for veterans looking for some post-enlistment stability, Ash said.

“Veterans want to find a place to settle … where they can get a good job, and Colorado Springs is absolutely that place,” he said. “They’re looking to be active outdoors and [have] a high quality of life, and Colorado Springs has all of those things in spades.”

At the same time, the Springs’ strong military presence gives the business community a much deeper talent pool to draw from, Ash said.

“One of the biggest needs of our business community right now is talent attraction, and the large numbers of active-duty military that we have separating here in Colorado Springs is a prime audience for our business community,” he said. “[Business owners] are very interested in bringing those disciplined, hardworking military folks into their companies.”

Apart from opportunities for former service members, Colorado Springs also has plenty to offer their family members, Ash said.

“One of the great things for the kids, in addition to all the outdoor activities available, is the school system. School choice really makes [the Springs] a prime location,” he said. “This is a location that everybody wants to come to because they know they can find the school that is exactly right for their kids.”

Creating thinkers

Within three years, Pikes Peak Community College will send 325 additional health care professionals into the local workforce, thanks to the development of the Center for Healthcare Education and Simulation, spokeswoman Karen Kovaly said.

“Moving into this new space will allow the college to increase their enrollment in these programs while giving students an even more robust learning environment with its interdisciplinary simulation labs,” Kovaly said.

This year, PPCC also joined with the Dakota Foundation, the Legacy Institute and Harrison School District 2 to create an unprecedented opportunity for high school students, Kovaly said.

Starting in fall 2020, every qualifying high school graduate in the Harrison School District will receive free tuition, books and fees, and academic support coaches, Kovaly said.

The program will remove many economic barriers faced by the “highly underserved population” in D-2, Kovaly said.

“Getting more kids to attend college and complete a certificate or degree or transfer to a four-year college or university will greatly increase their opportunity for upward mobility and job readiness,” she said. “The community benefits with the increase in skilled labor entering the local job market.”

Additionally, the community supports PPCC with necessary partnerships and funding to explore and develop new programs for addressing workforce needs, Kovaly said.

“We rely on industry partners to help us uncover where the needs are,” she said, “so we can develop the right programs and facilities to train the community’s future workforce.”