Bach: 6,000 jobs, redefined 

Between the Lines

When the mayor asks for a meeting, you don't ask why. Just when and where.

So there was no hesitation when Mayor Steve Bach requested a visit to his sixth-floor corner office at the City Administration Building. He had hinted in a few public encounters that he had at least a specific subject in mind — his goal, announced unexpectedly on Aug. 9 during the annual State of the City speech, to add 6,000 new jobs a year in Colorado Springs.

That goal, as it came across that day, led to some sarcastic responses, including one in this space ("Mayor's jobs goal: laughable," Aug. 15). The "laughable" description clearly struck a nerve, and Bach later had indicated he wanted a chance to answer that.

To his credit, though the mayor has been more confrontational in some other situations, this meeting actually began with an apology. Bach apologized, using that word, for not having taken the time for meetings with certain people ahead of that State of the City event.

He admitted that he missed the chance to be more proactive in discussing his 6,000 jobs theme, particularly how he had come up with the number, which also could have let him build some broad-based support (or at least a clearer understanding) in advance.

"I also could have presented it better," Bach acknowledged. As it was, he unveiled it as a challenge to the Chamber and EDC — since renamed the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance — to "take the lead in growing the 6,000 new civilian jobs our community will need." Given that the Business Alliance's main approach to growing jobs is bringing in new companies, that's how it came across to the audience of 800 civic leaders Aug. 9.

But, the mayor says now, that was not what he meant.

Before his State of the City address, Bach explains, he asked Summit Economics, a local research and consulting firm, for data to help him come up with a goal. The starting point was calculating how many non-military residents could be working — here and elsewhere (such as commuting to Denver or Pueblo).

That "resident labor force" for the Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area (including El Paso and Teller counties) was calculated as 314,200 people in 2012. Among them, 287,370 were employed, and 26,830 unemployed.

Bach looked at getting 2 percent more of that labor force back to work, with an improving economy inspiring companies to add jobs, new businesses opening with new jobs, and obviously some moving here from other cities. The possible combinations are endless, but this would be one scenario: If 2,000 local companies averaged two additional employees, that would be 4,000 jobs. If enough new businesses (fast food, chain stores, etc.) opened and hired 1,000 more, then if a handful of companies moving here provided another 1,000 — voila, that's 6,000 jobs.

Granted, that's different math from the days when the old Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. measured its success solely on adding "primary jobs," meaning companies that sold most of their products outside the local market area.

Mayor Bach isn't being that picky. As he puts it, "A job is a job." And the real intent here is having 6,000 more people employed, trying to reduce the local unemployment rate from 8.5 percent now to 5 percent by the end of 2015.

When you hear it presented that way, you can much more easily grasp how Bach earnestly feels his goal isn't at all "laughable," as we portrayed it. And using an apples-to-apples comparison, he points back to similar statistics from the years of 2002 to 2007. In that span of five fiscal years, the Colorado Springs MSA resident labor force (people with jobs) grew by an average of 5,860 a year — just 140 short of 6,000.

Of course, if sequestration actually does happen and the federal government tumbles over the "fiscal cliff," such goals would have to be revised. But we continue to hear that won't happen, no matter who wins the election.

So let's go into 2013 thinking that Mayor Bach's goal isn't a joke after all. It might even become reality.


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