UCCS Economic Forum a much different event after 20 years

Gazette file

Tatiana Bailey

Despite widespread projections and fears of a national downturn, the state and country’s economies remain quite strong, economists said Thursday at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 23rd annual Economic Forum.

When and how a recession might begin remain unclear, they say. Still, forum director Tatiana Bailey said there are things local business and political leaders can do to insulate Colorado Springs from harm.

Bailey outlined opportunities and challenges for the local economy while the forum’s keynote speaker, Alison Felix, vice president, economist and lead executive for the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, touched on national economic trends.

The forecast for the country remains strong, Felix said, though growth in some areas — like manufacturing and residential construction — are slowing. The country’s economic boom has lasted about a decade, an unusually long amount of time, so many think it’s bound to end soon.

But Felix isn’t so sure.

“Most economists don’t think that expansions die of old age,” Felix said.

Colorado is seeing its lowest unemployment rates since the early 2000s and is gaining jobs about twice as fast as the rest of the nation, Felix said. Consumer spending remains strong as well.

However, global factors have led to some uncertainty, Felix noted. Some countries — even economic powerhouses like Germany — are on the brink of downturns or recessions and America’s ongoing trade war is diminishing consumer confidence.

In addition, the country’s stock market is volatile, which could indicate an impending fall, Felix said.

Colorado has outperformed other states and if it can continue to attract new people into its workforce and foster collaborative business relationships, it could continue to prosper, she said.

“I think it’s a great time to be in Colorado Springs,” she said.

Bailey agreed.

Colorado Springs has opportunities in high-growth areas like the medical, technology and sports industries, Bailey said. The city has more than 16,000 open jobs in such industries.

Filling some of those positions has been — and will continue to be — a challenge, however, Bailey said. This is especially true when Colorado Springs competes with other cities that offer higher wages.

Colorado also faces consequences from low education spending, a chronic teacher shortage due to low pay and increasing costs for higher education, she said.

Tourism remains a strong factor of Colorado Springs’ local economy, Bailey said. Last year the area attracted 23 million visitors who spent a total of $2.4 billion, generating $100 million in tax revenue.

“This is only going to increase with the new attractions we have coming online,” she said.

But the state and city must continue to invest in infrastructure, Bailey said.

“It’s going to be a big one in determining if people will continue to move here,” she said. “Things have to be multi-modal, there’s no getting around that.”

As Colorado Springs’ population continues to grow, Bailey said city officials must act now — while housing is still relatively affordable — to provide more low cost living options.

“The pressures will only increase,” she said. “We need to seize the moment. We probably need some rezoning, all-of-the-above approaches, but maybe we can define ourselves by our creativity and do it at this pivotal time.”

The community should also focus on sustainability and launch education efforts on conservation to ensure a steady water supply for the years to come, Bailey said. Renewable energy also provides an opportunity for not only the environment but for job creation.

The city’s future can remain bright for some time, Bailey said, but a collaborative approach is necessary, especially in such divisive political times locally and across the country.

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