When he was elected, Colorado Springs was behind the curve, trailing more innovative cities like Boulder and Fort Collins, Gov. John Hickenlooper recalled. Now, when he travels the state, Hickenlooper said Colorado Springs is the city he uses as an example of Colorado's robust economy.
"For the last two years, I go to other cities and say, 'Here's what Colorado Springs is doing,'" the governor said Friday at the DoubleTree hotel while delivering a final State of the State address in Colorado Springs to community leaders.
Touting the state's low unemployment rate, Hickenlooper said much of that success is due to the collaborative effort by communities like Colorado Springs. That work has bolstered the city's high-tech, cyber, aerospace and military industries.
"You've been incentivizing businesses, you've been building infrastructure, you've been creating jobs and most powerfully, you've been working together," Hickenlooper said.
"Part of that might be the fact that you really don't have any Democrats here, so there's not such a divide," he joked, referring to El Paso County's reputation as Colorado's Republican stronghold.
But there's work still to be done in 2018, Hickenlooper said. Particularly in finding nonpartisan solutions to bolster the state's less populated areas, "to make sure we don't leave people behind. To make sure we don't leave part of our state behind."
"If we don't have a strong, vibrant rural economy, I don't think the state will ever be as strong or successful as it needs to be," he said.
Part of that work is investing in the declining ranching and farming industries, Hickenlooper said. But he also wants every town and county in the state to have high-speed internet access.
"Once you give them that high-speed broadband, then small businesses and entrepreneurs can set up shop out there," he said. "And this is equally true on the eastern plains as it is on the Western Slope."
Other opportunities for growth include investing in job training and education, particularly for those whose industries might soon become outdated, and investing in renewable energies such as wind and solar, Hickenlooper said. He briefly referenced the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant downtown.
"I realize you guys have your own . plant here that is a cause or an issue of discussion. I am not wading into that," he said. "All I'm saying is that the country is moving toward cleaner sources of energy and is increasingly able to do that at a lower cost." On the whole, Hickenlooper said Colorado Springs and El Paso County have made impressive strides in recent years.
"It's communities like this that make governors like me look good," Hickenlooper said.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Merv Bennett said he appreciated Hickenlooper's praise.
"We can get so much more done together," Bennett said. "Working as a team."
But El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller said he was disappointed Hickenlooper didn't address transportation, except to answer a question from the audience.
"Transportation is the number one issue facing our state today, and he doesn't even give it a passing comment in his speech," Waller said. "We're $1 billion a year short for the next 20 years, statewide."
Hickenlooper said the state is "helplessly behind" on transportation, though the $1.9 billion raised by Senate Bill 267 - which was enacted last year and removes hospital provider fees from the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights revenue cap - will allow the completion of the Interstate 25 expansion between Denver and Colorado Springs.
Addressing the rest of the state's transportation issues, he said it isn't fair to impose another sales tax here when the community has taxed itself for that.
"I don't think it's fair to charge a double tax," Hickenlooper said.