Aimee Cox knows her way around government jobs in the Pikes Peak region.
Cox, who was named this week as Mayor Steve Bach’s new Senior Economic Vitality Specialist for the city of Colorado Springs, has had a long and varied government career. For the past two years she has been City Council Administrator, and before that she was project manager for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department and administrator for the city’s Housing Development Division.
She also served a term on the Manitou Springs City Council, where she also was mayor pro tem for two years.
She is credited with securing $9 million for parks programs and more than $500,000 for various community projects, but her newest challenge will be restoring economic life to some of Colorado Springs’ most high-profile areas, recently dubbed “Economic Opportunity Zones.”
What vision do you bring to your new job as Senior Economic Vitality Specialist?
A couple of years ago I picked up an issue of Sunset magazine with a list of the best towns to live your dream. They were places where you could do things like give up your car, play year-round, hatch big ideas, make a living as an artist. The key ingredients were good jobs, good food, low crime and recreation. People in these communities weren’t looking to get rich; they were looking to be happy.
Colorado Springs has the raw material to be a best-in-class city for happiness, but we have been dogged by economic instability and unemployment. Our population is aging. Suicide rates are high. Job creation has to be a priority because economic vitality is critical to our quality of life, but vibrancy is also important. We must look out for the long-term well-being of our residents, celebrate our successes, address the needs of struggling families, think ahead to ensure services for an aging population, and support the robust economic activity that makes it all possible.
I joined the economic vitality team because I want to live my dream here, and I have a skill set that supports strategic doing. I believe that work works, and when your activities reflect your community’s values, they draw resources to them.
One of the charges under your new job is working on projects in “Economic Opportunity Zones.” What are those zones, and how did the areas earn that designation?
The economic priority zones are identified in the City’s 2013 strategic plan. The zones are southeast Colorado Springs, downtown, and North Nevada/UCCS. Staff is currently developing an action plan for making improvements and growing jobs in these areas. I will join that process when I begin my work with the Mayor’s Office next month.
You’ve held several government jobs; how has each one prepared you for the next. What have been some of the key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I have a missionary zeal for public service and practical leadership and bring a high level of energy to my work. My first public-sector job was a work-study position with the former Center for Community Design at UCCS. The Center mostly operated with grants and fees and generally served resource-challenged communities and organizations. I learned early to be entrepreneurial in my approach to projects, to think creatively, add value, build networks and articulate the return on investment.
It’s very important for people in this business not to get swept away by their own inventiveness. A truly good idea addresses a clearly defined problem, has a network of resources to support it (or the potential for a network of resources), and is enduring even if the project is ephemeral. I believe discretion is the better part of valor, and it’s better to be someone trusted to get things done than someone who merely generates impractical ideas.
What do you like most about Colorado Springs, and what would you most like to change about the city?
Colorado Springs’ natural beauty and recreational opportunities are unsurpassed along the Front Range. Our water is delicious. The air is clean. It’s an invigorating environment to call home.
Job creation is critical. Our residents need to be able to support a family and feel confident that professional advancement exists here. We lose talented, educated young people to Denver, Boulder or Fort Collins for career advancement. More housing options in greater density are important as well. Gold Hill Mesa and the mixed-use development in downtown Manitou Springs are models that could be modified to be made more affordable and suit the Westside, downtown and North Nevada.
Density helps support small businesses that serve successful neighborhoods. Mostly, I’d like to see more people out enjoying this community — shopping, dining, throwing a Frisbee in the park, commuting by bike. Active people send a message that a community is vibrant and healthy. Vitality should be the hallmark for Colorado Springs.