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Discover: Economy dominated by defense

By: Wayne Heilman wayneh@gazette.com
September 20, 2015 Updated: September 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm
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photo - Mark Rantal of Colorado Springs gives a high five to De'Yonna Polk-Ryer after picking up his order at the downtown Colorado Springs Chipotle Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Rantal ate a Sofritas Bowl with chips and three types of salsa for his 108th day in-a-row of eating at Chipotle. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Mark Rantal of Colorado Springs gives a high five to De'Yonna Polk-Ryer after picking up his order at the downtown Colorado Springs Chipotle Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Rantal ate a Sofritas Bowl with chips and three types of salsa for his 108th day in-a-row of eating at Chipotle. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

The Colorado Springs economy is dominated by one major employer - Uncle Sam. More than 60,000 civilians and military personnel work for the Department of Defense at the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base and Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Thousands more collect retirement checks from the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard. Defense-related business and payrolls account for more than one-fourth of economic activity in the Springs area.

Technology manufacturing, once a major driver of economic growth, employs fewer than half the people it did 15 years ago. Customer service and call centers have been among the area's fastest-growing industries, employing more than 14,000 in about 40 such centers, many of which have opened since 2000.

The Great Recession of 2008 to 2010 claimed more than 16,000 local jobs in construction, financial services, information technology and manufacturing, and it sent the local housing market into its worst downturn in nearly 20 years.

The local economy has largely recovered from the downturn. The city's sales-tax collections have increased on a year-over-year basis every month but one in the past 3½ years and have topped prerecession levels. Home sales have increased every month in the past 12 months, and home construction has risen for six consecutive months.

The tourism industry, a major contributor to the local economy, was hit hard by the recession in late 2008 through late 2009 but staged a modest recovery that began in early 2010 and gained strength in 2011. The industry was hit hard by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, with hotel occupancy declining in 2012 and 2013, but bounced back and is near record territory this year. Airport passenger traffic declined during the recession, compounded by carriers reducing service, and fell to a 23-year low in 2014 in the wake of Frontier Airlines' departure from the Springs in April 2013. During the first half of the year, traffic numbers are down 5.2 percent from 2014.

RETAIL

Starbucks. Best Buy. Target. Wal-Mart. Opportunities to "consume" greet you at just about every turn, even in new neighborhoods or communities. As they say, retail follows rooftops, with major shopping centers, strip centers and specialty shopping areas springing up as companies have fanned across the region.

Here's a look at major shopping centers and shopping districts in the region:

North and northeast: The 33-year-old Chapel Hills Mall at Academy and Briargate boulevards is a major retail force in northern Colorado Springs. It's anchored by Burlington Coat Factory, Dillard's, Sears, the area's lone Macy's store and a 13-screen Carmike Cinemas complex that opened in late 2013. A Gordmans discount store is expected to fill the vacancy created by the 2014 departure of J.C. Penney. By far, the biggest additions for consumers have taken place on Colorado Springs' north and northeast areas. Briargate, Wolf Ranch, Nor'wood, Stetson Hills and Springs Ranch are among the sprawling subdivisions where tens of thousands of homeowners and renters now live, which has prompted development of several new retail projects.

Powers Boulevard, running north-south through eastern Colorado Springs, has become arguably the area's most popular retail corridor. The First & Main Town Center, with about 1.6 million square feet of big-box stores, smaller shops, fast-food and sit-down restaurants and entertainment venues, dominates the corridor.

Newer retail centers that have been developed or are planned on the Springs' north side include InterQuest Marketplace, where a Hollywood Theaters movie complex that opened six years ago has been joined by a Brunswick Zone XL fun center and Colorado Mountain Brewery; the Promenade Shops at Briargate, a "lifestyle center" with the area's lone Apple store, Williams-Sonoma and others; and Copper Ridge at Northgate, where Bass Pro Shops opened its first Springs-area store in 2013.

South, southwest and southeast: The Broadmoor Towne Center, anchored by Home Depot, Sports Authority and PetsMart, and with several smaller stores and restaurants, is popular with residents of southwest neighborhoods. The Target- anchored Cheyenne Mountain Center near The Broadmoor World Arena is a major shopping area on the city's south side, while Hancock Plaza, anchored by a King Soopers grocer, serves the southeast side.

A new shopping center planned for construction just outside the Springs' city limits in Fountain, near South Academy Boulevard and Interstate 25, is anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter and a Sam's Club.

Central, northwest and west side: The 42-year-old Citadel mall at Platte Avenue and Academy Boulevard continues to be a mainstay for shoppers in the central portion of Colorado Springs. The mall is anchored by J.C. Penney, Burlington Coat Factory and a Dillard's clearance outlet. Across from the mall, Citadel Crossing added a new anchor when a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse opened in early 2012.

On the northwest side, University Village Colorado is anchored by a Costco Wholesale Club, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, a Kohl's department store and the area's only Trader Joe's store.

Colorado Springs' west side is served by two longtime retail centers: the King Soopers-anchored Uintah Gardens and the Safeway-anchored Red Rock Canyon Center.

Old Colorado City, in the heart of Colorado Springs' west side and just west of downtown, has a popular mix of small stores, restaurants and art galleries, among other retailers.

The town of Manitou Springs, immediately west of the Springs, has a similar mix of eclectic stores and restaurants.

Downtown Colorado Springs: Even as downtown has lost retailers over the years to suburban shopping centers, the area's lineup includes popular restaurants Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., Jose Muldoon's, the Ritz Grill and Old Chicago, along with local retailers such as Mountain Chalet outdoor equipment store, Poor Richard's Bookstore, Rutledge's clothing store, Sparrow Hawk Gourmet Cookware and Terra Verde, purveyor of clothing, accessories, jewelry and books.

Monument, Palmer Lake and Woodmoor: The area is served by Monument Marketplace, a regional shopping center anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter, Kohl's, Home Depot, Staples and PetsMart, along with the King Soopers-anchored Jackson Creek Crossing.

Fountain: Retail offerings in Fountain, south of Colorado Springs, have grown over the years as the community's population has grown by thousands of residents. The Markets at Mesa Ridge, a regional shopping center, is anchored by Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, Safeway and Walgreens and has several smaller shops and restaurants.

Falcon: The Safeway-anchored Falcon Town Center serves unincorporated Falcon, northeast of Colorado Springs. In recent years, it has been joined by the Falcon Highlands Marketplace, anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Woodland Park: The Ute Pass community of Woodland Park, west of Colorado Springs, has several centers anchored by City Market, Safeway and Wal-Mart along with many smaller shops and restaurants. EMPLOYMENT

All the things that make Colorado Springs a great place to live also make it a great place to work. Highly educated and outdoors oriented, the local workforce works hard and plays hard. The military is a huge employer, and the needs of the area's five military bases support thousands of additional jobs. Originally built upon large-scale semiconductor manufacturing in the early 1970s, Colorado Springs' tech jobs today are more about software code. Tourism is the reason Colorado Springs was founded, and it remains a primary employer. Still, the region's employment conditions track closely with those of the state and nation at large. The unemployment rate in the Colorado Springs area bounced between 5.1 percent and 5.3 percent between October and June, down from a peak of 9.6 percent in 2010. Employment has increased during the past year in most industries, including retail, health care, tourism and government, while jobs have declined in manufacturing and professional and business services. Local payrolls set a record in April and in the first half of the year are up 1.8 percent from the same period a year ago.

WAYNE HEILMAN, THE GAZETTE, 636-0234, WAYNEH@GAZETTE.COM

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