If Chicago is the city ‘with big shoulders,’ Pueblo, is just a smaller—significantly smaller—version of the ‘Windy City.’ It is a place that has braved the chilliest economic headwinds but has not simply survived them but moved right on through.
Today, Pueblo, the economic pulse of southern Colorado—an area bigger than a number of U.S. states—has an economy that has diversified from heavy industry to one that could soon boast of being the world leader in the manufacture of blades that harvest clean energy out of thin air. The city is in a final stage negotiations with the South Korean company, CS Wind, on a manufacturing operation.
“We’re in good shape,” said Jeff Shaw, Executive Director of the Pueblo Economic. Shaw, a Pueblo native. The city’s infrastructure is strong, there is a good availability of land, and perhaps as important as anything, the city has plenty of water, he said. Shaw also said that the city also has a strong workforce ready to fill jobs that companies need filled when they make decisions on relocating.
An abundance of workers will soon become available for potential new companies considering Pueblo when the job of destroying a good portion of World War II mustard agent is completed. Pueblo is one of two locations in the United States where the military has stored the war era’s nerve agent. The deadline for the end of this operation is December 2023. The end of the job will also mean the end of what was once known as the Pueblo Army Depot, a location up to the 1980’s that served as one of the region’s largest employers. When the end does come for this deadly weap- on, 1,582 workers will be available for new employment opportunities.
Like all cities looking to maintain economic momentum, much is predicated on Washington politicians figuring out a solution to the debt ceiling issue. Shaw said that even though Pueblo does not have a lot of defense employment, “we’re still waiting for Congress to act.” Failing to address the debt ceiling could plunge the country into a deepening reces- sion.
Most of the state’s economic growth has occurred on the Front Range, an area stretching from Fort Collins on the north to Colorado Springs. As a result, Pueblo’s unemployment rate, while not in a danger zone, continues to register higher than Shaw would like. “We’re a little bit higher,” than the state rate, he said. Pueblo’s unemployment rate comes in at 5.4 per- cent, nearly 1.9 percentage points above the metro area.
In 2020, Pueblo voters overwhelmingly supported a one-half percent city sales tax for economic development. The money, which has raised nearly $10 million dollars, is controlled by the city council and is used by the PEDCO to lure new business to the city. Spending money, as PEDCO does to lure business, is a common practice by municipalities. Money often goes to creating infrastructure, including roads and other incen- tives.
According to the most recent census, Pueblo’s population is 112,000. The population for the total county was approximately 170,000. Shaw says the size and location of Pueblo makes it ideal for a company looking for both quality of life and a base to conduct business.
“We’re getting a lot of looks from inside Colorado,” said the PEDCO executive. He says its location, with easy access to north-south travel routes, good rail options, square footage availability and “close proximity to Colorado Springs,” where air travel is quickly available are among the city’s best selling points.
“We have a good story to tell,” said Shaw, not the least of which is access to southern Colorado and what he calls a region that may be the state’s best kept secret. Also, when companies are taking a good look at Pueblo, he said, they quickly learn that the challenges of a big city are nowhere to be found in Pueblo, including the daily challenge of highway gridlock. “High traffic in Pueblo is one cycle of a traffic light.”`
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