Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content More jobs would cure what ails region, mayor says

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: October 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Addressing the myriad maladies highlighted by a nonprofit organization's wide-ranging report on quality of life issues in Colorado Springs starts with one thing, Mayor Steve Bach said: Jobs.

Bach called for a public meeting with town leaders and select business and nonprofit leaders to address concerns raised in the 2013 Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak region report, which was made public Thursday by the Pikes Peak United Way.

In doing so, he sought to link the region's two biggest concerns - a sluggish economy and mix of looming health issues, including obesity and a doctor shortage - to the need for better employment figures across the Pikes Peak region.

"If we can get people back to work, they'd have a chance at life - not only to have a decent life and avoid some of the problems that have been identified in these indicators, but also contribute back to our community in many ways," said Bach, during a news conference Thursday. "Including the ability to buy things, which generates revenue for our city, which enables us to help other people in need."

He announced no timetable for the meeting.

The 144-page report - expected to be released once every two years - highlighted low wage growth and an unemployment rate that ranks below a pack of comparison cities, including the Denver, Austin, Texas and Albuquerque metropolitan areas.

The region has 25,000 people unemployed and 5,000 job openings, said Joe Raso, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance's chief executive.

"So we really have a skills cap issue, in a lot of ways, that we as a region have to be resolving," Raso said.

Raso pointed out the move to a strong mayor form of government and the reorganization of the business alliance as encouraging signs of progress. He also highlighted Colorado Springs' 42-spot jump in the Milken Institute's ratings, to 57th of 200 cities.

Bach said several ongoing and proposed projects could spur development, including the City for Champions initiative, which could lead to the construction of a minor league stadium and an Olympic museum in downtown.

But the report also highlighted rising obesity rates, a shortage of physicians and psychiatrists and a slew of other public health concerns, including a persistently high suicide rate.

Many of those issues were the focus of the Pikes Peak United Way's 2011 report - leading some to question whether the report amounts more of a conversation piece, rather than a call to action.

The prospect of Bach's meeting is encouraging, said Dave Munger, one of the report's lead authors.

"I think it has to start that way," Munger said. "Whether it will continue, whether it will bear as much fruit as we like, it's too early to say."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

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