Job growth not keeping up with population increase in Colorado Springs

By: Maria St. Louis-Sanchez
June 29, 2014 Updated: June 29, 2014 at 11:29 am
Caption +
Lee Reynolds, who retired from the Army in 2010 after spending the final part of his service in Fort Carson, laughs with Trisha Boudreau while she belays a friend during a rock climbing session at Garden of the Gods Friday, May 30, 2014. A Colorado native, he decided to retire in Colorado Springs because of the nearby variety of outdoor activities. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette

The Army moved 42-year-old Lee Reynolds around the world in 15 years, even stationing him in Italy for six years, where he fell in love and married his wife.

But the Denver native knew he found the place where he wanted to spend the rest of his life when he was at his last posting at Fort Carson.

"I love the Springs," he said. "It's just so close to many outdoor activities and I like the town in and of itself. We're so close to the mountains and there's so much to do really close to here. Plus it's smaller than Denver."

After his retirement three years ago, his wife got a license to be a real estate agent, and he started taking classes at Pikes Peak Community College for outdoor leadership and to become a paramedic. While he is in school, they are living off her income, his retirement and also education assistance from the government for his military service.

They couldn't be happier, he said.

Local economists attribute much of the population growth in recent years to people like Reynolds - military retirees who move here because they love the city but not because they have a job or are actively looking for one. Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics show that the number of jobs in the area isn't keeping up with the booming population. Not even close.

From 2000 through 2013, the population in the Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is made up of El Paso and Teller counties, grew by 26 percent. In that same time, the number of jobs in the area grew by 2.7 percent. In Colorado, the number of jobs has grown by 7.5 percent in that same time period.

"People are coming here, but not to work," said Tom Binnings, a senior partner at Summit Economics.

Economists say the future of the area depends on jobs to attract a young educated workforce. Once here, that workforce will eventually attract more employers.

"Older people are great, they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our community, but the younger demographic is our workforce for the future, and that workforce is what attracts quality employers to our community," said Bob Cope, manager of the City for Champions project for the city of Colorado Springs.

Binnings said population growth can be good, but the region right now needs jobs more than people to catch up to the population already here and to attract more young, educated workers. "In my mind, I'd like to see a faster job growth than population growth," he said.

Still, considering the challenges the county has faced in the past few years - wildfires, lower job growth and cuts to the federal government spending that affected local military installations - it's impressive that the population growth is keeping pace with the rest of the state, said Elizabeth Garner, Colorado state demographer.

"It's keeping up with the state (population growth) despite having problems," Garner said. "When you look at what the county has gone through, it hasn't been easy."

Since 2000, the county's population has grown from about 510,000 to 645,000, a 26 percent increase. In 2010, El Paso County surpassed Denver County as the state's most populous county.

From 2012 to 2013, El Paso County grew by 1.5 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Garner said this growth resulted from a natural increase that comes from the birth and death of new residents and also new people moving here. Census Bureau figures from 2012 to 2013 show 12,000 people moved to El Paso County during the one-year span.

While the county as a whole has been growing at a fairly steady pace, the growth rates differ greatly by municipality.

U.S. Census figures show that Monument has grown by an estimated 188 percent since 2000. Fountain has grown by 76 percent.

Dave Smedsrud, community services director for the city of Fountain, attributes much of the city's growth to an increase in troops at Fort Carson. He said the growth has been good for the city but challenging at times as the town builds a commercial business base that is in line with the population.

"The challenge is the lag period after people have moved here but before new commercial real estate follows them," Smedsrud said. "But we're getting quite a few business that have come here."

In Colorado Springs, the population grew to an estimated 439,886 in July 2013, a 1.4 percent increase from 2012 and a 21 percent increase since 2000.

Reynolds, who retired here after his service in the Army, said he is happy to be a part of the population increase. When he's done with school, he will once again be searching for a job and the results of that hunt will ultimately decide where he lives permanently. He hopes he finds what he wants in Colorado Springs.

"When I'm done with school I need to find a decent-paying job," he says. "If I can't find one here, I'll have to move."

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