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High-tech boom days may be over, but leaders are breathing freely for now

When computer chip maker Intel announced a nearly $200 million expansion of its Colorado Springs factory and hundreds of new local jobs last Thursday, city leaders exhaled deeply.

They'd been holding their breath since July, when computer manufacturer Hewlett-Packard announced it would shave its global workforce by 10 percent, casting a cloud of speculation over the company's 2,200-employee Colorado Springs operation.

The news from Intel also comes on the heels of an announced $9 million, 162-job downsizing at evangelical organization Focus on the Family, and the relocation of the 78-employee Professional Bull Riders, Inc., to Pueblo.

Intel's new investment is a "very positive sign" for the local job market, says Kara Roberts, a vice president at the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation. "You don't put that kind of money into an operation without long-term plans for the community."

While Intel has made a concrete commitment to Colorado Springs, the future of HP remains a mystery.

Workers of the world

An online British technology publication, The Inquirer, reported last month that HP would begin sending Colorado Springs jobs to Costa Rica by Oct. 31, and that current employees have been training their foreign replacements.

But Roberts says her understanding is that any cuts will not be significant. HP, she notes, has been growing its Colorado Springs operation in recent years.

A major cut to HP's workforce would be the latest in a series of blows to the city's information technology sector. Telecommunications company MCI laid off 650 employees last summer, when it closed its call center here. Between 1998 and 2002, the city lost about 5,000 tech jobs.

Ryan Donovan, a spokesman for HP, declines to detail any specifics about cuts in Colorado Springs.

"We view our workforce as a global workforce," Donovan says about the prospect of off-shoring Colorado Springs jobs. He added that most of the company's employees already work overseas.

The one-shot deal

Colorado Springs technology project consultant Don Schley warns against hoping for a return to the city's high-tech boom days of the mid-1990s.

"We weathered MCI," he says. "But the question is, how much more can we weather?"

Schley says the dot-com bust in the late 1990s holds lessons for the city and its IT workers. Chief among them: Integrate high-tech workers into non-computer companies, such as construction firms, which are less likely to shift workers overseas.

"That kind of era," he says of the mid-'90s, "was a one-shot deal."

Downsizing and budget-trimming at Focus on the Family reportedly are linked to the ministry's desire for financial growth. That may seem counterintuitive for a ministry, but as Roberts observes, "they operate more like a for-profit company when it comes to management."

Although Roberts characterizes the recent coming and going of jobs as "normal fluctuations" in the economy, not everyone is sanguine about the losses.

Of particular concern to ranch and rodeo enthusiasts is the erosion of the city's unique niche of cowboy institutions. In January, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum was forced to close its doors briefly because of a lack of funding.

The recent loss of the Professional Bull Riders, a company that organizes bull-riding events nationwide, is another blow to tradition, says rancher and former El Paso County Commissioner Loren Whittemore.

"We can't lose sight of our roots," he says. "I think we're doing that."

-- Dan Wilcock

  • High-tech boom days may be over, but leaders are breathing freely for now

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