Forum shows military, nonprofits saved the Springs

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The days are shorter. The leaves are turning, and the Southern Colorado Economic Forum is right around the corner.

About 600 community leaders, executives and small-business owners are expected to attend the 13th annual forum at the Antlers Hilton Oct. 1.

Many business owners depend on the forum for insight into the coming year, as they update business plans, make budgets and forecast growth.

Will 2011 be the year to expand, buy instead of lease or hire another employee or two?

It could be.

Keynote speaker Gary Schlossberg, senior economist for Wells Capital Management, will give a national and international outlook and talk about whether the economy will rebound next year.

As has been the tradition, the local economy will be scrutinized by Fred Crowley, senior economist for the forum, and Tom Zwirlein, director of the forum.

They will look at economic conditions in El Paso County, and make projections for the next 12 months.

Here’s a sneak preview of just a few of the insights the two will share during the forum:

There is some good news for the region, especially when compared to the national economy.

“For a change, our per capita personal income went up in ‘09,” Zwirlein said.

It rose 2.2 percent in El Paso County, while nationwide it dropped 2.5 percent. Colorado’s dropped 4.7 percent.

“A good portion of that is from the military,” he added.

Not including benefits, the average military wage is close to $40,000. With benefits, that number jumps to about $58,000.

“The military was about the only one in town who got a wage increase (last year).”

Many service members also received extra combat pay after returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

In 2008, the local military accounted for 20 percent of the county’s gross metropolitan product. By 2009, that percentage jumped to 27.5.

Although the private sector shrank, the military grew in part because some of the last Base Realignment and Closure realignments involved Fort Carson and several Air Force installations.

Without the military, unemployment could easily have risen to 9.3 to 9.8 percent.

“The boots on the ground saved us,” Zwirlein said.

One military job generates 0.8 to 1 civilian job. The region gained about 5,000 troops last year, which boosted civilian jobs by 4,000 to 5,000.

Nonprofits also have helped stabilize the economy, Crowley said. Nonprofits pay fairly well, but while they help smooth out the economy, they don’t provide growth, he said. The private sector will provide that — though it will be “slow, agonizing growth.”

Any growth, however, will be an improvement over the past two years.

Crowley will say that the region — in order to be competitive and self-sustaining — needs to manufacture more goods.

“We can make goods to sell,” Crowley said. “An export base doesn’t have to be overseas — it can be to a neighboring county.”

Zwirlein agreed that the region and the nation have to produce more.

“Sooner or later, the U.S. needs to realize we’re in a global trading war — especially with China. The more we let them produce, the more leakage there is. And you lose the economic-multiplier effect.”

Economic multiplier refers to additional jobs that are created by each primary job in manufacturing or other high-impact sectors.

The economic forum will conclude with a panel discussion about innovation, which many believe is key to a healthy and prosperous future for the Pikes Peak region.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229. Friend her on Facebook.