Give thanks for a culture of success in and around Colorado Springs and the rest of the country. Despite historically high political tension, times are good and the harvest is good.
“Thanksgiving refers to our being thankful to God,” Colorado-based historian and former law professor Rob Natelson says. “It was a feast to thank God for bringing the Pilgrims through a very, very difficult time — 1260 to 1621. They had faced a severe winter. They had come from England and Holland, and they were not accustomed to Massachusetts’ weather or agricultural practices and how to make a living in the new world. They considered it a miracle they had survived so long.”
If Pilgrims gave thanks for mere survival, generations living four centuries later can give thanks for lives safer, healthier and more comfortable than 17th century humans could have imagined.
“Even by modern standards, we are doing very well,” Natelson said. “The unemployment rate is very low. It’s particularly low for racial minorities. The stock market is at an all-time high.”
Few places, even in all the United States, have more abundance to celebrate than Colorado Springs and the surrounding region.
Between now and 2030, the population of Colorado Springs will grow larger than Denver’s. For many longtime residents, more people crowding Colorado is no reason to give thanks. It is sometimes said that everyone wants to be the last person to move to Colorado. More population means more traffic congestion on roads and trails and enhanced competition for the best fishing holes and camping sites. It means more humanity bringing weird cultural and political agendas from other states that don’t understand the Rocky Mountain Way.
Yet the reasons for steady, consistent growth give ample cause for people of the Pikes Peak region to give thanks when celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends.
Thanksgiving is rooted in international traditions of celebrating the bountiful harvests. It is a celebration in which we give thanks to God for all he provides in the form of shelter, clothing, welfare and, most notably, food.
As a mostly nonagricultural, urbanized region, economic and population growth are the bountiful harvest. They represent wealth. They are the byproducts of successful governance and commerce.
People all over the world want to be a part of our success. That is why a recent report based on U.S. Census Bureau data identifies Colorado Springs as having the highest concentration of people, among 400 of the largest metropolitan areas, looking for homes.
It is not just a magnificent climate and awe-inspiring scenery that draw people to this region. It is a culture and economy based on national security, as the home of seven major military bases; education, as home to three esteemed four-year institutions of higher education; health care, as home to two major hospital systems expanding buildings, staffs and adding campuses; tourism, as home to famous resorts and natural and human-made attractions; a flourishing arts and science community; and small businesses allowed and encouraged to flourish in an environment of stable taxation, minimal regulation and improving public infrastructure.
The latest numbers from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment show the city’s unemployment rate at 2.5% in October. That’s down one-tenth of a percent from September and a full percentage point below the nationwide rate of 3.6%.
Unemployment in Colorado Springs is the lowest since tracking began in 1976. If the trend continues, employers will incur increasing pressure to raise wages to retain their best employees. Though low unemployment has downsides — we are seeing a shortage of bus drivers and workers in other sectors and tinges of price inflation — it means a cornucopia of jobs. People who want good jobs can find good jobs. It means employees have options for upward mobility. In general, low unemployment is a positive indicator of the general public’s welfare and happiness.
For those unmoved by government data, physical signs of progress are everywhere throughout the region.
At 14,115 feet above sea level, work continues on a state-of-the-art new Summit House for future visitors to the top of Pikes Peak. The $60 million, 38,000-square-foot building is funded largely by private donations and should open in the fall of 2020.
Unlike the building it replaces, the new Summit House is designed to maximize panoramic views from the mountain that inspired local English teacher Katharine Lee Bates to write the song “America the Beautiful.”
Bates wrote the song in 1893, inspired by what she saw during a visit to the top of the mountain with fellow young colleagues. Unlike today, times were tough. The region, like the rest of the country, was mired in a deep economic depression. Not recession; depression — the likes of which few among us have endured. That did not diminish Bates’ love and appreciation for life and thankfulness to God.
“America! America! God shed His grace on thee … ” she wrote.
In what sounds like a tribute to Thanksgiving, Bates linked “pilgrim feet” with a “thoroughfare for freedom … across the wilderness.”
At ground level below Pikes Peak, residents and visitors to the region see work on thoroughfares throughout the city. Seldom does anyone give thanks and think “freedom” while dodging orange barrels through construction zones. Yet, the inconvenience means safer and more efficient mobility on the horizon. The sights and sounds of road construction symbolize a community successful enough to invest in its future.
Voters approved a sales tax increase five years ago to improve roads throughout the city and this month reauthorized a lower tax for another five years to continue the work. Meanwhile, the state is widening Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock to liberate traffic between Colorado Springs and Denver.
In addition to funding five more years of transportation improvements, voters authorized the city to keep surplus funds, otherwise owed to taxpayers, to fund improvements to parks.
Other symbols of a profitable harvest, for which we should give thanks, include:
• The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame: The $90 million project is set to open in 2020 and serve as another major attraction to Colorado Springs. The museum will complement the city’s status as “Olympic City USA,” a title that pays homage to the community’s role as host to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Training Center and dozens of governing boards for U.S. Olympics teams.
The building’s architecture is designed to “resemble the flowing movement of an athlete in motion,” as explained on the museum’s website.
• A new downtown outdoor stadium and separate indoor arena. The City Council this month gave final approval to a 15,000-capacity outdoor stadium for concerts, other entertainment events and athletic contests. The stadium will serve as home of the Switchbacks, a professional soccer team. The team’s owner, Ed Ragain, donated millions to help build the stadium as a public-private partnership.
City officials will break ground Dec. 7 and hope for a grand opening in March 2021. The stadium will anchor housing and commercial developments, including a modern urban residential community by Weidner Apartment Homes.
Just north of downtown, the campus of Colorado College will get a new indoor hockey arena and events center.
Both projects are part of City for Champions, a group of tourism projects the Colorado Economic Development Commission agreed to support with tax-increment financing.
• The Air Force Academy Visitor Center: The City Council in July established an urban renewal area west of I-25 along North Gate Boulevard for the development of a new, user-friendly visitor center for the Air Force Academy. Like the downtown stadium, the visitor center will anchor an adjacent commercial development.
• The Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center: Set to open in June, the state-of-the-art medical center is a collaboration among the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, which has a new medical curriculum, and Penrose/St. Francis-Centura Health.
“The collaboration brings together a unique and unparalleled combination of clinical practice, undergraduate and graduate education, combined with clinical, faculty and student research. The benefits will be numerous, including dedicated space specifically designed to foster collaboration in the first-of-its-kind facility,” explains the UCCS website.
The center will include the Center for Tactical and Occupational Performance, the Center for Active Individuals with Physical Disabilities and the Center for Human Health & Performance in Extreme Environments.
• Space Symposium/Broadmoor expansion: The City Council this summer gave approval for The Broadmoor resort to more than double its Broadmoor Hall convention and expo space to accommodate the explosive growth of the annual Space Symposium. The annual event, which draws experts in aerospace from around the globe, is sponsored by the Springs-based Space Foundation.
The project helps secure the stature of Colorado Springs as a major hub of aerospace and military aerospace and satellite science, engineering and technology.
• The National Cybersecurity Center: Opening for business last year in a former satellite plant owned by UCCS, the center stands to grow into one of the country’s foremost authorities on cybersecurity research, training, education and development.
• The Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center: Only 3 years old, this growing nonprofit provides an assortment of essential services for veterans, active military and families of both. The center culminates a dream of local businessman Jay Cimino, who wanted to provide the military and veteran community with employment assistance, behavioral health and wellness services, and other support.
• The Springs Rescue Mission: A staple of the region’s large network of charities, the Springs Rescue Mission broke ground this year on the latest in a series of improvements and expansions. The latest project, as explained in a Gazette news article, includes an expanded kitchen, a 200-person dining room and a welcome center with 450 storage lockers.
“The $5.5 million project,” the article explains, will “mark the realization of an endeavor that began in 2014, when Springs Rescue Mission took the lead in building a one-stop-shop for services to aid homeless people, much as other communities across the nation had done.”
• Too many charities to list: Colorado Springs is a major hub for the headquarters of hundreds of local, regional, statewide, national and international charities that bring comfort to humans and animals facing challenges ranging from disease to starvation. Local church-based soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and pantries provide food, shelter, clothing and various mental and physical health care to those who would otherwise go without. Large international charities — such as The Navigators, Compassion International, and others — provide aid around the globe with little fanfare or other need for recognition.
• In-N-Out Burger: Yeah, we know. … This celebrated West Coast icon is nothing like the charities, visitor attractions and educational institutions that are nudging our community into the realm of “world-class city” status. It’s just a burger joint. Indeed, but this business makes Colorado Springs the envy of Colorado. The California-based chain chose Colorado Springs as the location for its regional headquarters. It plans to open its first Colorado restaurant in Colorado Springs on InterQuest near I-25.
Other cities have fought for this distinction. Former Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks embarked years ago on a full-fledged campaign to lure the chain to his city, seeking petition signatures supporting the idea and writing frequent letters to the chain’s vice president of planning and development. The chain has a following so strong we know about carloads of young adults road-tripping to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City for an In-N-Out fix to break the doldrums of summer. The company hopes to open its Springs restaurant in late 2020.
Our politically divisive culture can create the impression we are falling apart, with little for which to give thanks. Some think the country is failing, after watching hours of political anxiety on the 24-hour news cycle.
“Even though we are doing very, very well by most conventional measures, the level of political division can create the impression these are not good times,” historian Natelson said.
Facts say otherwise. People fortunate enough to live in the United States have more for which to give thanks than, perhaps, any humans at any other time in any other place.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey.
Amen, and let’s give thanks for good times. Happy Thanksgiving!