Why have some Colorado communities thrived economically, while others have faltered?
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper believes the answer could provide a roadmap to help struggling communities revive. On Tuesday, he announced that he'll ask several of the state's largest foundations to fund a study of strategies used by the state's most economically successful communities.
"There are certainly parts of the state that have not done as well as the rest of the state, and that does bother me," said Hickenlooper, who spoke to more than 50 business and community leaders at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, where he was seeking ideas to incorporate into the state's blueprint for the state's economy. "It is on my checklist to sit down with the foundations to fund a study on why some communities have done so well - where did they make investments?"
He contrasted strong economic growth in Durango with sluggish job gains in Grand Junction 170 miles away even though both communities benefit from a growing energy industry.
Colorado Springs has lagged the state in both job growth and paring its unemployment rate since the recession. Job growth in Colorado Springs is less than half of the statewide average, and its unemployment rate is 1.3 percentage points higher than the state's.
Hickenlooper also noted that communities that have made investments targeting young adults tend to have the highest job growth, which he linked to adults under 35 years old starting a record number of new businesses in recent years.
Hickenlooper is returning to the same cities he visited as part of the 2011 blueprint process to determine what has changed and what parts of the economic development plan need to be updated.
The state's unemployment rate remains too high at 6.2 percent, Hickenlooper said, and he plans to focus economic development efforts on the long-term unemployed and younger workers who have had trouble finding jobs.
He said the state's top economic priorities include doing a better job of retaining existing businesses and helping them grow; improving work force training; and promoting a more pro-business economic climate and a culture of innovation.