Springs ranks at bottom in national 'clean economy' study

July 12, 2011
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Colorado Springs fared dismally in a new Brookings Institution study looking at the clean economy in the nation’s 100 top metropolitan areas: The Springs was 99th out of 100 in total clean economy jobs, dead last in the percentage of employment from clean economy jobs and dead last in the export dollars per clean economy job.

One bright spot in the study was that the Colorado Springs clean economy has been growing, adding about 650 jobs in the past five years — a 6-percent growth rate that is in the middle of the pack nationally.

The study tried to provide a broad picture of the clean economy around the country, looking at not just companies making wind turbines and solar panels, but things such as infrastructure jobs in transit and waste management and services like green building and engineering. Colorado as a whole did fairly well by those measures, and was a leader in clean technology, but the state’s base is heavily weighted toward Denver and Boulder.

“In Colorado Springs, I was personally surprised to see that it was as low as it was,” said Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst at Brookings.

Doug Quimby, chairman of the board and acting president and CEO for the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., said the clean tech and renewables sector has been a target for the EDC, but it’s swimming upstream.

“We haven’t had a lot of success in this area,” Quimby said. “We don’t have a particular competitive advantage in the clean tech industry the way we do in other sectors.”

Still, he said, it’s not a lost cause. Berken Energy, a small New Mexico company that manufactures thermovoltaic devices, recently announced plans to relocate to the Springs, and homegrown Neumann Systems Group is a local bright spot. And, Quimby said, federal energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives at Fort Carson and the other area bases have the potential to generate a lot of local jobs in clean fields.

“We certainly haven’t given up on it,” Quimby said.

The Brookings report is not pretty, but don’t read too much into the numbers, said Eric Cefus, executive director of the local environmental nonprofit the Catamount Institute. The local economy has little manufacturing, a prime generator of those export dollars, Cefus said, and the study may not capture what’s happening at Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy.

“I think we’re doing a lot of things well,” Cefus said, citing Catamount’s own Pikes Peak Sustainable Business Network program as an example. “It’s frustrating. It seems like Colorado Springs is always its own worst critic.”

Nevertheless, Cefus said, there’s a lot more local leaders could and should be doing to promote sustainable businesses and investments.

“This really needs to be a wake-up call to some of the leadership,” he said. “This community is scared to death to make an investment in itself. Until we make that commitment, those numbers aren’t going to change.”

Rothwell said he thinks the study can provide guidance for local leaders.

“In some cases, it’s really about some places have managed to find a niche here and some haven’t,” Rothwell said. If he were a local leader, “I would want to focus on the advantages that I have and try to leverage those going forward and ask the question, ‘What do companies need to expand and grow in the specific industries where my region can be competitive?’”


Colorado Springs gets its clock cleaned

A new Brookings Institution report looks at the “clean economy” in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. Here’s how the Springs measured up:

Category: numbers — ranking

Clean jobs: 1,934 — 99th

Percentage of total jobs: 0.7% — 100th

Exports per job: $2,770 — 100th

Average wage in clean jobs: $37,605 — below local average wage of $39,542

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