Mayor Steve Bach challenged the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC on Thursday to create 6,000 new civilian jobs annually.
Bach said in his State of the City address that the region is expected to add only 627 new civilian jobs this year but that it needs to increase that number tenfold to regain a full employment economy.
“The city is going to take the lead by improving the business climate,” Bach told a crowd of about 750 at the Antlers Hilton downtown.
“Today, I respectfully ask the chamber and EDC to join us in this quest by taking the lead in growing the 6,000 new civilian jobs our community will need,” he said. “I know you’re up to it.”
Board Chairman Doug Quimby joked that the chamber would set a goal of 6,000 new jobs — if not more.
In an interview afterward, Quimby said job growth is the chamber’s responsibility.
“We’re going to certainly join him in trying to achieve that goal,” Quimby said.
“Six thousand is a tough goal, but it’s achievable,” he said. “It’s probably an ambitious goal for the size of our economy but one we should be able to achieve.”
It’s been more than a decade since the local economy created that many jobs in a year.
Quimby said Bach told him beforehand he was going to have a challenge for the chamber.
“But I didn’t know the number, and frankly, we haven’t really thought about the number,” he said.
Bach said his administration asked local economist Dave Bamberger about the city’s history in job growth over the last five years and what it needs to return to full employment.
“He came back and gave us that number as a threshold number. It may not be high enough,” he said. “If you look at the last five years, from 2008 through the end of this year, our region, we’ve lost almost 14,000 civilian jobs.”
Bach, who made job creation a key campaign issue, said he felt it was important to make the community aware of the numbers.
“I know it’s a very daunting goal and when we don’t make it, I’ll be criticized, but if we don’t have a goal, we don’t have anything to strive for. I want to be focused razor sharp on that and I want to ask, respectfully, the chamber and ECD to join me on that.”
Job growth isn’t the only thing on Bach’s mind.
During his speech, Bach called Colorado Springs Utilities a “key challenge.”
“I think we should have a community conversation on ownership and on governance and yes, on Martin Drake,” he said, referring to the coal-fired power plant downtown.
“I think it should involve all of us, not just City Council,” he said, drawing applause.
The council, which doubles as the Utilities Board, had considered a study to decommission the decades-old power plant. But it decided instead to delay the study for a year and move forward with spending millions of dollars on a new emissions control technology, which is being tested at the plant.
“I believe and I think you’re going to find a growing number of other community leaders believe that we are at a point in time where we need to rethink everything we’re doing,” he said, adding that he wasn’t criticizing the city-owned utility.
“What if we hadn’t done that with Memorial Health System? We would have already turned over the hospital to Dr. (Larry) McEvoy and his group,” he said.
McEvoy wanted to turn Memorial, also owned by the city, into an independent nonprofit. But now, voters will consider leasing Memorial to University of Colorado Health in an Aug. 28 election.
“That was an example of rethinking,” Bach said, adding that he’s “not comfortable” that the city has adequate board oversight of Utilities, a billion-dollar-plus enterprise.
Businessman Steve Shuck, a close confidant of the mayor, said the city needs to appraise the true value of Utilities and its four services: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.
“I’m not suggesting any outcome,” he said. “But I am passionate about the fact that we don’t know what we have, we don’t know what the market might give, and I want desperately for us to understand the value of the asset and the alternatives that are available to us with regard to that asset before any decisions are made.”
Mayor Steve Bach said the city will announce a new strategic plan this fall that will be action-oriented and include measurable outcomes. Success will be measured by achieving the following three goals:
-- Be the most business and citizen friendly city in the U.S. as measured by adding an average of 6,000 new civilian jobs in the region annually and by citizen satisfaction.
-- Transform city government to live within its limited financial resources and be the ‘Best in Class’ city of its size.
-- Build community through ongoing dialogue with citizens and local, regional and state leaders and by encouraging private sector and nonprofit initiatives to improve well-being.
Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
Facebook Daniel Chacon