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Colorado Springs: A City on the Move

Since the 1870s “Little London’s” metro area has grown from about 5,000 to more than 670,000 residents. Our population grew 20+ percent from 2000 - 2013, higher than the state’s growth rate of 16.9 percent for the same period. It’s also more than double the national average of 9.7 percent.

What brings this continuous stream of newcomers to the area? The military – active duty and retired – have certainly generated steady move-ins. There’s also plenty of “organic” growth - families drawn here by our quality of life.

Case in point: two California filmmakers attended a conference at T ients.
They are hardly our only converts.

International investment banker Greg Huesgen traveled the world before putting down roots in Colorado Springs. Today he owns Downtown Fine Wine and Spirits at the corner of Wahsatch Street and Colorado Avenue and purchased seven other properties in the city. The decision to move here was an easy one, he says. In a global environment, high taxes and political uncertainty are frequently the norm.

“The cost of living and climate here are very attractive. My tenant - the nonprofit coffee shop next door – is building a 150-seat patio. The views of Pikes Peak from downtown are beautiful – I’m not sure locals know what a great asset they have,” he says.

Forbes.com ranked Colorado Springs No. 44 out of 200 U.S. cities on its list of the 2014 Best Places for Business and Careers. To our credit, the cost to do business here is .4 percent less than the national average; we’re 115th in job growth and we rank No. 35 for having a college-educated populace.
Examples like these, however, are just part of the story.

A vibrant community attracts new jobs, adds new families and provides solid infrastructure for its residents. It also creates a place for future generations to call home.

Our pluses include a significant active-duty and retired military population, a reputation as a popular tourism destination and a local economy that avoids boom-and-bust extremes.

While Colorado Springs and El Paso County have been on the right track, changing factors could alter our momentum.
El Paso County estimates the economic impact of the military alone to be more than $5 billion. That estimate could change dramatically, based on upcoming sequestration cutbacks.

Current U.S. Census Bureau data from spring 2013 also shows a decrease in our rate of growth. Case in point: since 2012 El Paso County’s population growth has slowed from 4.7 in 2012 to about two percent. Any military downsizing may affect that decline even more.

During the past five years unemployment rose from a healthy 6.3 percent in 2008 to 10.4 percent at the height of the recession (2011). The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports the Pikes Peak region has climbed back. Today just 7.2 percent of eligible workers are unemployed, but often in lower-paying service sector positions.

That said, Colorado Springs continues to show very well.

Summit Economics Senior Partner Tom Binnings and Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association President Joe Loidolt of Classic Homes agreed to weigh in on some of the geographic, demographic and economic factors likely to affect our future.

“As Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler has noted, ‘We’re an easy recruit’ because of our natural setting,” Binnings says.
He also credits a growing sports industry sector and the United States Olympic Committee’s decision to headquarter downtown for creating economic momentum.

“When we bring people to town for conferences or to train, we’re exposing them to an incredibly beautiful place that’s reasonably affordable,” he adds. Binnings sees El Paso County’s location and its easy access to south Denver’s high-paying jobs as a net positive.

El Paso County, he believes, is well positioned to draw Millenials (who left for Denver’s jobs and youthful culture) back when they’re ready to raise a family. That view is supported by the U.S. Census Bureau and ESRI (geographical) data that show Colorado Springs metro area’s fastest growing segment of the population are those 55 to 74 years of age. The next fastest growing demographic: 25-34 year olds.

Even as local job growth now lags behind population growth, the region is expected to grow to three-quarters of a million people by 2020.
Much of that growth – more than 50 percent – will occur among seniors. A 2013 Quality of Life Indicators report noted that a “Silver Tsunami” is on the way. El Paso County’s 65+ population will increase an astounding 179 percent, from 61,788 in 2010 to 172,394 by 2040.

Another key to the future: our abundant geography. With 2,100 square miles in El Paso County, there’s plenty of land to support a growing population. That’s good because we’re also the 11th fastest growing county in Colorado.

Those who live here also make good – not great – money. El Paso County’s $57,531 median household income represents 22.8 percent growth since 2000. That’s about the same rate as Colorado (23.4 percent) but is lower than the U.S. average rate of 26.3 percent.

There’s even better news on the housing front. Pikes Peak region median home values from 2008 – 2012 grew by almost 48 percent. That’s higher than the state average rate of 42.1 percent, but remains lower than the national average rate of almost 52 percent.  

Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association President, Classic Homes’ chief executive Joe Loidolt sees steady, incremental growth on the horizon. New home building permits are likely to hover near 2013’s total of 2,676 – a 20 percent jump over 2012.

Home building permits – a frequent barometer of the Pikes Peak region’s economic health – create employment for thousands of workers. The industry’s economic ripple effect means millions of dollars in sales and use taxes flow to city and county coffers.

“In order to see another lift like that (in building permits), we’ll need new jobs and low interest rates,” he says, adding that builders are also concerned about the rising cost both of mortgages and building materials.

Loidolt identifies the county’s greatest homebuilding activities to be located east in Banning Lewis Ranch (north of Woodmen Road) Indigo Ranch and Meridian Ranch as well as further south and east of Marksheffel Road in communities like Lorson Ranch. The Fountain Valley is another growth corridor, especially for first-time and move-up buyers. And upscale homes in north El Paso County communities like Flying Horse and Monument’s Promontory Pointe are seeing an uptick in buyers.

So far the homebuilding industry’s outlook for 2014 is on par with last year’s 2,688 building permits. Loidolt attributes neutral growth to the lack of new jobs.
“Our economy seems to be picking up, but we’re all cautious because we know the headwinds we’re dealing with.”