Business leaders optimistic at Southern Colorado Economic Forum

Sept. 30, 2013

April Wefler
awefler@uccs.edu

UCCS and the College of Business partnered with several community organizations to host the 17th Annual Southern Colorado Economic Forum at the Antlers Hilton Hotel on Sept. 26.

College of Business professors Tom Zwirlein and Fred Crowley were both featured presenters after short introductions by Venkat Reddy, the business school dean, and the chancellor.

The forum emphasized the importance of rebuilding city infrastructure, as well as developing confidence and working together as a community.

Jim Paulsen, the keynote speaker for the forum and chief investment strategist for Wells Capital Management, stressed the importance of consumer confidence.

“I think we’re getting close to where money velocity is turning up. I think it’s about to turn up. If confidence turns up, velocity turns up,” he said.

Talking about the end of the world, ad nauseam: “Our view was, ‘We’re dead, man.’ If everyone thinks that, we are.” Paulsen said that our economy dealt with this view for three years, which meant that we didn’t experience an economic boom.

Paulsen said it is a different type of economy. “It’s reacted differently because you all got older,” he said to a few hundred mostly older Colorado Springs residents in the Antler’s ballroom.

He also said the nation is in for a long recovery. “It will take awhile ’til you think the future looks bright enough and you start doing dumb things,” he said, adding the economy doesn’t have a recession when people are careful with their finances.

In addition, Paulsen said to stop looking to the government to fix economic problems. “Stop worrying about them solving the problem. They’re not gonna.”

Fred Crowley, senior instructor in the College of Business who was honored for his outstanding service from 2002-2013 at the start of the forum, discussed the economy on a local level.

He said the housing market is up about 200 percent and that the main factor is single-family homes.

“Prices have come up, about 8 percent below historical peak, Colorado 2 percent below, nation 15 percent below,” he said.

However, “if you pull out the housing and car sales, the rest of the economy needs more oomph.”

Crowley added health care services have picked up about 4,000 jobs since 2002, but there aren’t as many jobs as the community needs.

“We’re getting too concentrated … not the direction we want to go,” he said.

Zwirlein, a professor of finance, said the community is seeing almost 35,000 jobs and that the largest sector is software/IT, which he said are critical jobs for the community.

Both he and Crowley emphasized rebuilding the infrastructure. “I don’t think those developing countries could develop if you don’t put in the infrastructure first,” Zwirlein said.

He said that 70 percent of the roads are in need of repair. “We gotta show a better face. You build, they’ll come,” he said. “Because we kept putting it off and putting it off, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot more expensive.”

Since there was a delay in rebuilding the infrastructure, $834 million is needed to rebuild, which means $53.4 million per year for 25 years.

“We need to think big. I don’t know if as a community, we’re thinking about abundance. I think we’re still focused on scarcity,” said panelist Joe Raso, president and CEO of Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

Some discussed the communication divide between Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and City Council in fixing city problems, others the divide between city and county government.

“We have got to behave like there are no boundaries. I think we have to boldly proclaim who we are,” added Amy Lathen, El Paso County District 2 commissioner.

The forum has been a prominent annual event to discuss local and national economics for 17 years.

Ron Chernak, president of First Business Brokers, Ltd. and this year’s master of ceremonies, attended an economic forum of a similar nature in Denver.

“He liked what he heard but thought it was too focused on northern Colorado, so he asked if we could do it here for southern Colorado,” said Zwirlein.

Zwirlein and a colleague did the first analysis in 1997. “It was well-received, so we decided to do another and another and another.”

He said he likes that the forum gives him an opportunity to discuss material he would normally teach in business school.

“It’s an unbiased analysis of what’s going on in the economy. We don’t silver plate or gold plate,” Zwirlein said.