Jobs, they are the talk of the town.
They are the subject of forums, meetings, reports, committees and task forces. People are talking about the loss of them, the effect of the loss of them, the reason why they were lost and how to get them back.
Despite all the talk, they remain elusive in Colorado Springs, which is causing some to ask in frustration, “Where is the action?”
“It’s always good intentions, it never goes anywhere,” said Matt Coleman, Hub International president for Colorado.
He attended a Jobs Renaissance forum this month, where the focus was on federal trade and tax reform. The event was one of many job forums he’s attended over the years.
Mike Schmidt, CEO of Ensemble Ventures, also attended the Jobs Renaissance forum. He believes efforts to attract jobs to Colorado Springs and El Paso County are fractured, which has led to more talk. There is an old guard, he said, that is top down driven and there isn’t much creative thinking, he said.
“The impact of fiscal policy and the ebbs and flow of trade policy are important, but does it affect the local guy?” Schmidt asked. “I want to know how do we get a local jobs initiative off the ground.”
Economic development is listed as the greatest opportunity for Colorado Springs and El Paso County to become an outstanding community for business, according to the 2011 Pikes Peak Region Business Climate Survey, released this week. But, economic development is also named as a top barrier companies face in doing business from Colorado Springs.
“The local economy does not have the luxury of growing the private sector by evolution,” said Fred Crowley, who heads up the Southern Colorado Economic Forum. “Efforts to grow the private sector must be more aggressive and innovative.”
The Southern Colorado Economic Forum publishes an annual report of local economic indicators from unemployment rates to a look at jobs gained and lost by sector. Crowley was a panelist at the Jobs Renaissance forum.
One thing he noted in his 2011 economic report is the number of reports and plans in recent years, including Operation60ThirtyFive, the Blueprint for Colorado, the Dream City Vision 2020, the Quality of Life Indicators and the sustainable funding committee formed by the Colorado Springs City Council.
“The Forum has called for action a number of times over the last several years,” Crowley said. “The time is ripe to take this creative thought and energy from the work of many and roll it into a comprehensive, integrated long-term strategy for the city, county and the region.”
The local economic outlook is grim, matching federal reports of unemployment and loss of manufacturing and high-tech jobs, which pay more and have a multiplying affect.
The local jobs reports include statistics such as 19,000 manufacturing and technology jobs lost since 2000.
An estimated 9.5 percent of people in the county are unemployed. But, that number doesn’t count people who exit the workforce, which means unemployment in El Paso County is closer to 15 or 17 percent, Crowley said.
In El Paso County there are fewer people working today than in 2000. Meanwhile the population has grown 20 percent. Looking forward to 2019, projections show the county population to increase by 115,000 and jobs to increase by 23,000. That won’t do, Crowley said.
“We need to add 60,000 jobs,” he said.
Frank Shannon, chair of the Colorado Steering Committee of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, said he is trying to make the move from talk to action. He’s convinced that more jobs will be created when there are changes to federal trade and tax policies. As a local manufacturer, he lost work to China during the past five years until he finally closed shop this summer.
His group hosted the Jobs Renaissance forum and is forming a task force to advance issues including reforming trade policy and overhauling the tax system to one that prioritizes job creation, Shannon said.
His worry, however, is that Colorado Springs is not a business-friendly climate. And, unless some local changes are made, attracting companies will be difficult, he said.
“If we do get changes at the federal level and we really do start a job renaissance, Colorado Springs had better be prepared to attract companies that want to move here or come back from overseas,” Shannon said. “And, we are not.”
One issue that has been talked about for more than 20 years, he said, is the business personal property tax. Several states have ended that tax, he said.
The coalition expects to host a Jobs Renaissance step 2 in the coming months with the goal of working with local leaders to formulate an economic development strategy and to talk about jobs.
“There are a number of things that need to be fixed,” Shannon said. “If we have a comprehensive approach and attack on all levels –federal, state and local — we will have a jobs renaissance.”