The local economy’s great — or is it?

Filed under: News |

Spent some time last week with Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development CEO Mike Kazmierski, who had some interesting — and brutally frank — things to say about the state of our economy.
Looks pretty good, doesn’t it, Mike? Housing starts are holding well, we’re anticipating a flood of new arrivals at Fort Carson, the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association might stay, the power developers are about to break ground on a five-star downtown hotel … what’s not to like?
Plenty, according to Kazmierski.
“If it weren’t for the military, we’d be in the tank,” he said. “Most of the growth in the local economy is military-based; without it, we’re in a lot of trouble.”
And, Kazmierski said, future military growth is by no means assured. During the next few years, if American involvement in Iraq and the Middle East winds down, we might see drastic change.
Inevitably, as the defense budget shrinks, and the number of active-duty personnel declines, Colorado Springs will suffer.
Are we prepared? Can we adjust? Probably not.
“Good jobs are a commodity in today’s economy — and we’re competing to attract the companies that provide them with 3,500 American cities — and thousands of other cities around the world, Kazmierski said. “And a lot of those cities are much more serious about the game than we are. We just don’t have the tools … we’re trying to play in the big leagues with a high school team.”
What do we need to do?
“We don’t have an economic development budget that allows us to offer substantial incentives,” he said. “With so many competitors out there, companies are looking to narrow their choices — and when you don’t have incentives, they won’t even look at you.”
Kazmierski shakes his head. “And I listen to these guys (running for Congress), and they say they’ll never support a tax increase — never have, never will. Without (last year’s passage of) Referendum C, this city would have been in real trouble.”
We trade stories about the city’s stubborn, irrational taxophobia — and admit that neither of us can do much about it. So why are we here? Both of us love the place. As Mike remarks:
“In a place like New York, unless you have a billion dollars, you can’t accomplish much. Here, if you work hard, one person can make a difference.”
Right, Mike — just don’t go trying to raise our taxes!
Meanwhile, the circus continues at School District 11, where the board, in yet another example of ludicrous dysfunction, fired Superintendent Sharon Thomas.
I’m sure that she was heartbroken; but that $425K severance package should cheer her up.
Earth to board: you’d better hire someone fast. And that someone had better be competent, committed and capable of dealing with all seven of you.
One name that’s been mentioned: State Rep. Keith King. Not exactly an obvious choice, but one that makes eminent sense.
King’s been a businessman, a teacher, a school board member (District 12) and a legislator. If anybody has the political skills to smooth over the board’s divisions and get on with the business of educating our kids, King does.
And as the district moves to site-based management, a non-traditional superintendent (like Denver’s Michael Bennet, Mayor Hickenlooper’s former chief of staff) might be appropriate.
After my talk with Mike Kazmierski, I ran into my pal, the Seasoned Political Observer, making his way down Tejon Street. It had been a while since I’d spoken to the SPO, so I took the time to get his take on the not-so-sexy six. (Just for those who didn’t read last week’s column – the Republicans vying for the Congressional District 5 nomination/coronation.)
“We’ve got six big egos out there, but only three of ’em have a shot,” SPO related. “Rayburn’s just some general who thinks he ought to be the boss.”
“Wait a minute,” I interjected. “I dated his sister Sue in high school — I was thinking of voting for him.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t care who you dated — he’s not gonna win,” SPO informed me. “Bremer and Anderson are so last decade — no one remembers ’em. Politicians are like porterhouse steaks — even the best ones have a ‘sell-by’ date.
“That leaves Crank, Lamborn, and Rivera.”
So who’s in front?
“It’s a tough call,” SPO explained. “See, 50 percent of the [Republican] primary voters are hard-core social conservatives and the rest are moderates or fiscal conservatives. The Rivera people are hoping that Crank and Lamborn split the right-wingers, and Lionel can sneak in with a plurality — but that depends on who votes for the three no-hopers. All three of ’em are to the left of Crank and Lamborn — so they may take more votes from Lionel than from Jeff and Doug.
“Right now, I’d say Crank or Lamborn — unless Lionel can persuade Anderson and Bremer to withdraw — and that’s not gonna happen.”
“Besides,” and the SPO lowers his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “I hear rumors that some right-wing outfit in Washington, the Club for Growth, is about to spend big bucks going negative on Lionel. Where’s Lionel gonna get the money to reply? I don’t think that he’s raised that much.”
Rumor, gossip, innuendo — the lifeblood of local politics. But as I left the SPO, I wasn’t thinking about politics.
I thought about my school friend Sue Rayburn, who died – much too young — of cancer nearly four decades ago.
I thought of Eje Sprague, who passed away last week at 94, surrounded by a loving family. Eje, a Springs resident for 60 years, chaired the Planning Commission in the 1960s.
Passionate, engaged and effective, her legacy endures. And I thought of my contemporary Bob Telmosse, whose generosity to others and commitment to community can only be emulated — never equaled.
Maybe it doesn’t matter which of the six men in ill-fitting suits (actually seven — don’t forget Democrat Jay Fawcett) make it to Washington.
What’s important is the way we live our lives. We can be engaged participants in the life of the city or we can sit back and do nothing — it’s up to us. Residents need to join the fray — and journalists need to be fair and accurate.
So, in the interest of fairness, a correction. Lionel’s a pretty snazzy dresser, as is Duncan Bremer. And as far as the rest of ’em — well, I’ll check the next candidate forum and report back on this vitally important issue.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 634-5905.