What the city needs most

On a regular basis, we’ve tried to keep alive some basic ideas of what our area business community needs.

We’ve supported enhancing our local workforce, appealing more to young professionals and turning ideas to reality downtown. We’ve talked about making this region more enticing to outside companies that could bring much-needed new jobs to the region — high-paying jobs, the kind that increase real estate demand and generate true economic improvement.

But it certainly helps much more when similar messages come from other, highly credible sources in our midst.

Such is the case with the 2013 Pikes Peak Region Business Climate Survey, conducted again (as in 2009 and 2011) by Summit Economics for the nonprofit Cheyenne Mountain Civic Solutions organization.

More than 400 respondents from the business community took part in Summit’s online survey, and that fact alone makes the results worth examining. Especially in the 403 answers to one question in particular: “What changes could local government undertake to improve the business climate for your organization?”

Survey participants could list as many answers as they wanted. You might guess the No. 1 response was “cut local taxes.”

In reality, that answer tied for 12th place at 17.6 percent — the same number, you might be surprised to know, as “increase local taxes.” No kidding.

Otherwise, the list of suggestions for local government, ranking No. 2 through 11, covered what many observers would prescribe: Reduce regulatory burdens, 39.7 percent; streamline permit approval process, 39 percent; invest more in the stormwater system, 38 percent; fund more street maintenance/pothole repairs, 37.7 percent; enhance arts and culture, 32.5 percent; ease local street and road congestion, 31 percent; improve K-12 public education, 29.5 percent; reduce licensing burdens, 28.3 percent; invest more in parks, recreation and open space, 27.3 percent; and improve public safety, 18.6 percent.

Think about that. Businesspeople are far more concerned about improving regulations and permit processess, stormwater and the arts than public safety and local taxes.

That’s a strong message, but not as strong as the unquestioned No. 1 priority among those responses. A whopping 55.8 percent of the group sent this mandate to local government: Fund more economic development initiatives. The city — Mayor Steve Bach’s administration and City Council — should hear that.

Another question asked for the region’s top five economic goals. The leading answer, at 53 percent, was “create new jobs with above-average wages and salaries,” followed by attracting and retaining 40-and-younger workers, being more economically diverse (or less dependent on the military), doing more to promote entrepreneurship, cultivating a world-class business environment, having a more efficient and effective local government, and revitalizing downtown.

Those survey outcomes should help local elected leaders set clear priorities, if they truly are serious about wanting Colorado Springs to be more business-friendly. They should become more proactive, aggressive and generous in supporting economic development — attracting new companies, new jobs and people wanting to move here. That could include offering more incentives, even if they are performance-based.

City leaders should chew on that message, because it’s not just coming from the media. It’s coming from the business scene. Loud and clear.