In a recent talk at a Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. luncheon I identified the Colorado Springs area as the gateway to what I call the “Lifestyle Belt” of America.
Lifestyle Belt is a phrase that came to me as I pondered the great population centers that have characterized this nation.
The first major population centers were established in the Northeast and Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. Immigrants primarily from European nations emigrated through Ellis Island and sought opportunities in nearby cities. Most of these immigrants were unskilled, but highly willing to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Manufacturing dominated these cities’ economies and, after decades of humming along, they entered a period of decline and collectively became known as the Rust Belt.
The Bible Belt was born out of waves of Americans seeking a way of life that was more pastoral than the hustle and bustle of the large Rust Belt cities. The Bible Belt, running roughly from Texas to Tennessee to Georgia, was built on oil, agriculture and old-time religion. People moved there to be part of a more genteel culture that did not center on the factory. All that was required to be successful was a willingness to hew to Victorian-era traditions, a penchant for conducting business on a wink and a handshake, and an entry pass to the close-knit good old boy networks.
The Sun Belt was born of a migrating wave of retirees who could afford to spend at least part of the year basking in the warm sun. The Sun Belt is disjointed, but includes Florida, Arizona, California and, more recently, New Mexico. The Sun Belt also attracted entrepreneurs who fed off the accumulated wealth of the retirees. Silicon Valley is part of the Sun Belt, and has been the de facto entrepreneurial capital of the world for the past two decades.
But times change, and just as population waves left the Rust and Bible Belts, there is a population wave that is now also leaving the Sun Belt.
Where will it go? I have proposed that the likely answer to that question is the American West. And I am not alone in that belief.
The Brookings Institution issued a report last year that identifies the Intermountain West — and the I-25 corridor in particular — as a potent, future growth region of the United States.
The Lifestyle Belt offers the disgruntled and displaced masses of Americans and newcomers the amenities they are seeking: low taxes, limited government, good universities, trustworthy people, clean air, eclectic nightlife and four distinct recreational seasons.
Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder, and other Front Range communities are without question the leading edge of this emerging Lifestyle Belt, which certainly also includes Boise, Jackson Hole, Billings and other heretofore hidden gems.
For someone like me, who has lived in all of these population “belts,” it is obvious that the Lifestyle Belt has great potential.
Anyone who doubts this need only travel to Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta, or San Jose and witness the flood of “For Sale” signs.
People are leaving these regions for a reason; they want to go where they can create a new lifestyle for their families.
I propose they are seeking the simple pleasures and abundant opportunities for self-expression, wealth creation and recreation that characterize the Lifestyle Belt of America.
We must do our best to beckon and welcome them to build their futures and their fortunes here.
Duening is the El Pomar Chair for Business and Entrepreneurship at the UCCS College of Business.