Colorado

Sep 20, 2010 7:10 PM by Matt Stafford

Quality of life examined in the Pikes Peak region

This year's Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region are out, and contributors to the report say the current economic downturn has impacted many factors.

The 120-plus page report, put together by United Way Pikes Peak and Leadership Pikes Peak and many other volunteers, focuses on 10 key community sectors; areas like the economy, social well being, natural environment, built environment, health, education, arts and recreation, transportation, public safety, and community engagement.  This is the fourth year the report has been put together.

While each of the sectors can be very different, community leaders are finding it's how they work together that matters the most in the long run.

The annual report is a process modeled after other communities, but 180 or so community leaders were brought together to plot the course for the Pikes Peak Region, looking at the quality of life.

"Let them discuss it, and then they're the ones who determine what are the areas that we want to focus on," J.D. Dallager, president and C.E.O. of Pikes Peak United Way.

They, along with Leadership Pikes Peak and other sponsors and volunteers, found plenty of people wanting to help their community, especially during a recession, volunteering nine months of work into the report.

However, there are many more people outside the room that the numbers were being presented looking for much more than volunteer work.

"Right now, any job is a good job," says Mike Kazmierski, president and C.E.O. of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation.

Kazmierski says we've seen recent improvements in the number of jobs, but we still need more, and ones that can support families.

"Are they bringing benefits, because those 27,000 unemployed need help now," explains Kazmierski.

Like many issues the report addresses, different categories influence one another; and economic issues have played a large role in social well being.  Many saw the effects last winter with the number of homeless campers.

"Most of those individuals became homeless tent campers because of the economy," says Bob Holmes with Homeward Pikes Peak, a local grouping working to give the homeless a hand finding work and a place to live.

Over the past several months Homeward Pikes Peak has helped 425 homeless at the Aztec Motel.  139 of them have found jobs, with a lot of it being seasonal, manual labor.  That's been a concern that it would run out, but Holmes says they're seeing other jobs pop up.

"Already 12 of those individuals have gotten new jobs," says Holmes.

They're looking for more jobs, but Kazmierski says, as a community, you can't just look for jobs in one pay-range -- they all feed one another.

"Those come when you bring in the higher paying jobs," says Kazmierski.

So as many are finding out, their job may not come with the same mission and goals as the person next to them, but just about everyone who came to hear the report's results have a similar objective -- improving the community.

"It's not about reinforcing the status quo, it's about moving forward." Dallager says.

They'll consider the report a road map on how to get there.

To view the full report, click here.

Here's a list of some of the high and low points of the report, complied by the organizers:

Gold Stars

-The Cost of Living Index indicates that Colorado Springs has a very favorable level of affordability compared to other cities driven, in part, by low cost of goods and services.

-There has been steady growth in military presence since 2005, primarily because of the growth of Ft. Carson.

-The pounds per person of waste in the community have decreased dramatically in 2009.

-There was a steady rise to 64 percent, as of 2009, of low-income children enrolled in preschool programs in the community.

-Current statistics continue to reflect very high performance standards and excellent emergency medical response service times.

Red Flags

-While overall Business Conditions Index for January through March 2010 shows improvement from the same period a year ago, enplanements, employment rate and real wages are at their lowest point in BCI history.

-The Gross Metropolitan Product Per Capita is 22 percent below the average of all U.S. Metropolitan areas.  The GMP is influenced by local industries and by the number of retired or underemployed citizens.

-Government, including local, state and federal were the largest employers in Colorado Springs in 2009.  A local economy dependant on government and military employment is exposed to the uncertainties of tax revenues and politics.

-Industries that draw income from outside the region -- primary jobs -- in addition to retiree income, drives the local economy.  Primary jobs in the region are declining due to globalization and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.

-The region's "young professionals" population is dwindling.

-According to the Milken Institute's national rankings, in 2009, Colorado Springs was ranked 101st out of 200 of the best performing cities from 2001-2009.  That is, however, near the bottom of the benchmarking group.

-Tenth-grade math skills in the region are far below acceptable standards based on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, with each district ranking below 50 percent proficient.

-The annual cost per student continues to increase each year.

-DUI arrests increased by 18 percent this last year.

-In 2009, 26,302 people, or approximately 4.4 percent of the population, served jail time in the county jail.

-In 2009, El Paso County received the most child abuse and neglect referrals of any Colorado county.

-Key indicators for domestic violence show an increase in the number of victims seeking overall services, while the ratio of crisis contacts to advocacy contacts remains steady at approximately one to four.

Source: 2010 Quality of Life Indicators for the Pikes Peak Region.

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