October 2, 2013 Updated: October 2, 2013 at 6:08 pm
By the numbers, Colorado Springs is the most federally-dependent big city in the United States, a Washington Post study found.
The study estimated that nearly 19 percent of the workforce in Colorado Springs gets a federal paycheck, making the city especially vulnerable to latest round of federal budget gridlock.
“We’re getting hit really hard,” said Richard Skorman, a former City Council member and restaurateur.
He began offering free meals to furloughed federal workers at his Poor Richard’s restaurant on North Tejon Street Wednesday.
“The federal employees are critical to so much of what we do,” he said.
Colorado Springs is far from king of federal furloughs in the government shutdown. Most federal workers here are in uniform and are guaranteed a paycheck through the shutdown, thanks to a last-minute congressional deal.
The area has about 36,000 troops on active duty and 13,500 federal civilian workers, with about half of those civilians off the job without pay during the shutdown, which began Tuesday.
That compares with nearly 450,000 federal workers in the nation’s capitol, most of them civilians subject to furlough.
“While this is in large part a story for Washington, Colorado Springs is another place where a very important swath of the economy is effected,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution in Washington, which came up with the numbers used by The Post.
Tom Binnings with Summit Economics in Colorado Springs said the Brookings numbers seemed fairly on target, showing the huge federal footprint here.
It’s something local leaders have seen as a blessing and a curse for years. A frequent topic of political talk is diversifying the region’s economy.
“We as a city have always maintained a careful balance to seek out and have diversity in our economy while respecting and wanting to keep the military community we have here,” said Republican state Rep. Amy Stephens of Monument. “They’re what make this community one of the best ones to live in.”
The Post analysis looked at nation’s top 100 metropolitan area based on the percentage of the labor force dependent on federal paychecks, including troops.
It’s no surprise that the nation’s biggest military communities topped the post’s list, with Colorado Springs, where the military is responsible for more than a third of the economy, leading the pack.
Colorado Springs was followed on the list by the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area of Virginia, home to the nation’s top Navy bases, which had 17.2 percent of its workforce reliant on the federal government. Honolulu came in third at 17 percent with its mix of Army, Navy and Air Force bases.
The Post study didn’t examine smaller communities that have an even larger federal footprint as a percentage of their economies. In Killeen, Texas, for instance, members of the military from neighboring Fort Hood make up about a third of the town’s population.
Because troops were sheltered from the shutdown, the immediate impacts of government gridlock haven’t hit Colorado Springs with full force. But that could change.
As they argue over the budget, members of Congress also face a looming deadline for setting the “debt ceiling.” Without an increase in borrowing authority, the Treasury Department could run out of cash, putting all federal paychecks, entitlements and contracts at risk.
“That will clearly begin to ripple more widely through the national economy and your economy,” Muro said.
It could effectively disrupt up to 40 percent of the region’s economy.
“It’s not limited to us if that happens,” said Don Addy with the pro-military Colorado 30 Group. “We’ll be one community of many affected by a debt ceiling collapse if that happened.”
1, Colorado Springs, 55,000 federal workers, or 18.8% of the workforce
2, Virginia Beach-N.C., 144,000 federal workers, 17.2%
3, Honolulu 86,000 workers, 17.2%
4, D.C. region, 446,000 workers, 14.3%
5, El Paso, 43,000 workers, 13.6%