Time to face our crisis head on

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Since the formation of Citizens’ Goals during the 1970s, there have been many community efforts that have intended to define and shape the future of the Pikes Peak region.

Some have disappeared without a trace, while others have contributed greatly to the city’s growth, prosperity and well-being.

Without the Economic Development Corp., conceived and created by brash young businessmen Steve Schuck, David Sunderland and Bruce Shepard, it’s hard to imagine how our economy could have grown and diversified.

Without the advocacy of Lee Milner and Richard Skorman, it’s unlikely that Red Rocks Canyon, the Stratton Open Space and Cheyenne Mountain State Park would have been preserved.

And without the late Gen. Ken Curtis and a host of historic preservationists, it’s likely that the city’s signature building would have been demolished 30 years ago. That building, then the El Paso County Courthouse, is now the home of the Pioneers Museum.

Once again, it has come to symbolize the problems and opportunities of a new era in the long history of our city.

Thanks to sharply declining tax revenue and an angry electorate that is unwilling to pay higher taxes, the city can no longer pay for the museum, parks and community centers, nor provide traditional levels of service in virtually every area of municipal government.

That might be only part of the problem. We fear the city and the region might be in the midst of a prolonged secular decline, which could damage our economy for years to come.

As University of Colorado at Colorado Springs economist Fred Crowley noted during the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, the region has lost more than 20,000 primary jobs in the high-tech industry since 2002.

While those losses have been mitigated by an increased military presence, we must realize that what Washington gives, Washington can take away.

We might be approaching a perfect economic storm. Our military economic base depends upon external forces and events over which we have little control.

We are engaged in a battle with every other city in the nation for economic development, and we’re outgunned by many of our competitors. We’re losing primary jobs, and we’re losing the young professionals who will create and drive the growth industries of the future.

Last Sunday’s Denver Post reported about the decision of Republic Airlines to move more than 300 jobs from Denver to Milwaukee. This is an example of the increasingly fierce inter-city competition for jobs and economic development.

We can fight all we like about taxes and city governance, but unless we solve our underlying economic dilemmas, we’re headed for the dustbin of history.

We need to realize that we’re in crisis and that no one can bail us out — except ourselves.

Otherwise, we might find that historians summarize our city’s decline as did John “Prairie Dog” O’Byrne, describing the fate of Colorado City.

“Prairie Dog,” a notorious 19th century scalawag best known for his team of elk, Thunder and Buttons, wrote that during its heyday: “It made no difference what time of day or night you came to ‘Old Town’ — the excitement and amusement were continuous.”

But a few years later, the excitement was gone, along with the colorful characters who had once lived there — Bob Ford, Soapy Smith, Eat ’Em up Jake of Dodge City, and “many other outlaws who were once bright lights in Old Town.”

In a mangled couplet, O’Byrne mourned the resplendent past.

“Old Town isn’t what it used to be, times have made a wonderful change/And today Old Town resembles an old dog with the mange.”