UCCS continuing economic anchor in southern Colorado

Oct. 20, 2014

Nick Beadleston
[email protected]

In a field as tempestuous as economic forecasting, access to information and education is key. This is especially true in southern Colorado, where the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs stands as one of the most authoritative voices on how the coming year’s market will turn out.

The university hosted its 2014-2015 Southern Colorado Economic Forum on Oct. 10 at the Antlers Hilton in downtown Colorado Springs. Several economic experts from the university and the community spoke on trends since the recession and hurdles to overcome in the next year.

UCCS research benefits community

The forum was opened by UCCS Chancellor Pamela Shockley-Zalabak, who highlighted the university’s record enrollment, approximately 11,200 students, then noted the university’s record number of cranes on campus.

“We are excited about the growth of UCCS, but the growth of UCCS must be coupled with the growth of the regional economy,” she said.

The event centered on regional economic data collected from the previous fiscal year, combined with fiscal trends, and analyzed by members of the UCCS College of Business and other local experts.

“We’ve been providing that forecast for 18 years now,” Thomas Zwirlein, UCCS professor of finance and previous forum director, said. Zwirlein has been a part of the forum since its inception and has worked to collect and interpret the economic data presented at the forum.

He indicated the forum’s findings are used by local companies to formulate their business strategies for the coming year. Zwirlein also said local school districts and Colorado Springs Utilities use the information for planning.

“It’s really a great partnership example, the College [of Business], the campus and the community,” said Venkat Reddy, UCCS dean of the College of Business, who also spoke at the forum.

This year’s forum saw a change in leadership, as Tatiana Bailey, a Michigan economic developer of 27 years, became the new, first full time, director.

“This is maybe the most exciting and the most welcoming community that I have ever encountered,” she said. “It’s easy to see why [UCCS] is thriving, when so much of higher education is languishing.”

Bailey thanked Zwirlein for helping her transition into the position, and joked many had turned out to see if one Latina woman could do the job of two men.

Following presentations on international, national and local economic trends, Zwirlein, the forum’s new director Tatiana Bailey and Gary Schlossberg, senior economist for Wells Capital Management answered questions from the audience.

The three used forum data, as well as professional knowledge to address concerns ranging from military spending and downsizing to the impact of the Affordable Care Act.

Other speakers at the event included Randy Scott, president of the Southern Colorado Business Partnership, Karla Tartz, former deputy director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and Ron Chernak, president of First Business Brokers, a prominent, local brokerage firm.

“UCCS has been a true partner with the Colorado Springs business community, and I would say a shining light going forward,” Chernak said.

UCCS’ role in southern Colorado

Conference speakers pointed to the expansion of UCCS as an example of the continued recession recovery in southern Colorado.

“It is a real privilege to be a rapidly growing institution, because we think that is a contribution to the vitality to this region,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

Those on campus recognize that regional economic revival and university expansion are closely linked.

“It’s important for the community to engage with us, because they want to get the best graduates,” said Reddy. “The financial strain means we all need to work together to prepare the right kind of students for our community.”

Bailey cited university leadership as one of the institution’s biggest assets to the region.

“[The leadership is] not just focused on growing the university, it’s also growing the community,” she said. “That’s a great marriage, because you have people who have their hands on the data, and they might even be experts on a certain field.”

“To put those people and those resources out into the community not only puts the face of UCCS out there, but also enables the community at large to reap the benefits of all these highly educated people,” Bailey continued.

Bailey was also encouraged by the expanding relationship between the university and other educational institutions in the area to promote higher learning and entrepreneurship.

She said collaboration to produce a better workforce will be pivotal moving forward. But before Colorado Springs can become a larger economic actor, it must first answer a more local concern: keeping an educated workforce from leaving the area.

“You want to keep your talent in town,” Zwirlein said. “That just helps build good communities.”

University economic experts feel this is accomplished by providing well-paying jobs suited to available talents.

Zwirlein said while the area has seen an increase of 5,000 jobs since 2009 that is not enough to keep up with the 1.7 percent population increase.

Those at UCCS see the university as part of the solution.

Zwirlein said UCCS provides both direct and indirect jobs for the community. The former happens through university expansion which allows for construction jobs and new building staff. The latter happens due to increased local spending from an enlarged student population.

“We’re becoming more and more of an economic development anchor,” Zwirlein said. “If we went away tomorrow, it would cause a big problem for the community.”

Whatever the role of UCCS in southern Colorado’s path back to economic prominence, most realize it will not be without continued support from the community it serves.

“If we can’t figure out how to educate the workers of tomorrow, it’s going to make it very difficult for us to compete globally,” Bailey said. “That linkage between higher education and the business community, I think, is going to be key.”

For an in depth interview with the Southern Economic Forum’s new Director, Tatian Bailey read One-on-one Q&A with Tatiana Bailey