Ted Rayburn: Backs patted, let's focus on a busy new year

Ted Rayburn 11/19/15. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

It has been gratifying to hear from so many readers and members of the Colorado Springs business community since this column began a month ago. And the best part of it is that virtually everyone had something to say more than a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The comments have been informative, thought-provoking and entertaining, and that tells me a lot about this city's can-do, always engaged mindset.

Here's one example that I found fascinating and, as a newcomer to the state and the city, very helpful. Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics LLC, emailed this observation:

"One intriguing aspect of El Paso County is that we consistently grow each decade by approximately 100,000 people. Perhaps even less known is - unlike every other county (in Colorado) - we showed net in-migration in virtually every age cohort."

As a prominent economist and Springs resident, Binnings knows his statistics.

The first fact he cited, steady population growth, is unique by anyone's standards. Look at the top 50 U.S. cities by population (Colorado Springs ranks 41st), and you will see cities that have grown by fits and starts, from San Antonio to Phoenix, Jacksonville, Fla., to Charlotte, N.C. Las Vegas went from about 258,000 residents in 1990 to more than 613,000 in 2014; truly, a boom town.

There is nothing wrong with big growth. It's far preferable to population loss - New Orleans between 2005 and 2010 being an extreme but teachable example. But rapid growth brings big problems, too. It strains infrastructure and makes urban planning a nightmare, and it pits natives against newcomers in deciding what kind of neighborhood they have.

Then there is the uncertainty of the revenue stream. City leaders plan big development projects based on the amount of taxes collected in a boom year, and five to 10 years later, when the final tab comes due and population growth has slowed, residents inevitably are stuck with a tax increase. No future is certain, of course. But Colorado Springs has enjoyed growth that gives off heat without being burned.

The other fact that Binnings shared is even more propitious. Unlike the youth- and millennial-driven growth of northern Colorado cities, Colorado Springs and El Paso County draw newcomers regardless of age group.

Why is this important?

Think of it as having a diversified portfolio for an entire county.

Mature residents, 45 or older, bring relative wealth to their community and are more likely to invest and add to the value of land and property. Families with young children and young adults spend a greater percentage of their income on disposable goods, shoring up small businesses and retailers. Having steady growth across the age spectrum buffers the local economy against tough times better than any single industry boom, which can just as quickly siphon off wealth when the party is over - try to find a happy real estate agent or landlord in North Dakota or Texas right now as the oil and gas bubble bursts.

The old saying "slow but steady wins the race" is not exciting, but it describes a city that exudes confidence and never gives up.

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Ted Rayburn joined The Gazette as business editor in October. Send him your observations and ideas on business and the southern Colorado economy. Reach him at 636-0194 or ted.rayburn@gazette.com.

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