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Colorado Springs a top destination for college grads?

May 18, 2011
0 on Wednesday named Colorado Springs as one of its “10 Great Cities for College Grads.” That’s an unexpected pat on the back for a city whose leaders frequently fret about its ability to attract and retain young professionals.

Kiplinger crafted the list by looking at the state of the economy, along with “factors of interest to the post-grad set,” such as rent affordability, access to public transportation, overall cost of living, culture, nightlife and the percentage of people ages 20 to 24.

Getting and keeping young workers was a constant topic of discussion during the recent mayoral campaign; Steve Bach, who won Tuesday’s historic vote to elect the city’s first strong mayor, often said during the campaign that his own grown children didn’t want to live in the Springs.

“This is not a very cool place to live, according to them,” Bach told the Broadmoor Rotary Club in April. “I think it is, but of course, I go to bed early.”

Although the local unemployment rate continues to be high — it’s currently at 9.7 percent —

college-educated workers have far lower rates of unemployment than less educated workers.

According to 2010 census figures, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate in the Colorado Springs area, while workers with less than a high school diploma had a 10.8 percent unemployment rate.

Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corporation, said the Springs’ base of high tech jobs is growing and that the Kiplinger recognition may put the city on the radar of a few college grads looking at their options.

“The number one concern for a college graduate is a job,” Kazmierski said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if (the Kiplinger ranking) does effect the thinking of some college graduates. Colorado Springs is not New York, it’s not Denver — it at least gives us a look. Some of those talented young professionals may consider us where otherwise they may not have.”

On Thursday, the EDC plans to announce a high-tech company’s expansion plans in the city and Kazmierski said there’s another such announcement on the way.

“If you look at Colorado Springs and its potential for growth we stand up very well against other communities,” he said.

None of that means, however, that newly minted college grads should cry “Pikes Peak or Bust!”, said Michelle Graham, director of business and community initiatives at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

“I would hate to have any college graduate look at this and go, ‘Woo-hoo, I’m moving to Colorado Springs!’” she said.

Educated workers are doing better than lower skilled workers, she said, and high tech companies are hiring locally, but competition for those jobs remains fierce.

“When the economy picks back up again, yes, this will be a wonderful place for a young, fresh-faced college educated graduate to live,” Graham said. For now, however, “it still is relatively tough to find a job, even in those high-tech companies.”

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs holds its graduation ceremonies Friday and Bev Kratzer, director of the university’s career center, said typically more than 70 percent of the school’s alumni stay in Colorado Springs.

“I would say the huge majority of our students want to stay in Colorado Springs, without question,” Kratzer said.

Whether those graduates find gainful employment, of course, depends in large part on their major. There are jobs and even competition for computer science students, Kratzer said, but students with less technical degrees may have to broaden their horizons or adjust their expectations if they want to stay in the Springs.

“I do see the entry-level computer science and information systems students having more choice than they did in years past. In other areas… that’s tougher,” she said. “You do in some situations have to lower your expectations about salary or about positions or something.”

Other cities on the list included New York City; Charlotte, N.C.; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Neb.; Seattle; Boston, San Francisco; and Philadelphia. Cities were not ranked in order.

Here’s what Kiplinger had to say about Colorado Springs:

“Located 60 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs has the lowest metro population on our list at 608,000. But the city offers an unbeatable combo for recent grads: A vibrant, tech-based economy plus rock-bottom living costs. In 2010 alone, the city added 1,398 jobs in fields like information technology, banking and higher education. Major companies like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Verizon Communications (VZ) and FedEx (FDX) have corporate offices here.

“While incomes are strong — starting salaries averaged $36,900 — rent has remained low, even downtown. The area features dozens of restaurants, bars, art museums and concert halls within a walkable, nine-block radius. And with the Rocky Mountains looming over the city, Colorado Springs is an outdoor enthusiast’s delight. It ranks among the country’s fittest cities, according to a Gallup survey conducted last year.

“Pros: An abundance of parks, hiking trails, and recreation centers, educated community, low crime rate, high percentage of residents ages 20-24 compared with other cities on our list

“Cons: High unemployment rate for low-skilled workers (opportunities skew toward the highly-skilled), limited public transit, low median income. The average commuter will need to drive to work — or bike along the city’s 118 miles of urban bike trails.”

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