One Pueblo: 21 agencies set to collaborate to help strengthen Pueblo's economy
A plan designed to strengthen the economic resolve of the Steel City and make Pueblo a dynamic community was unveiled Monday.
The 257-page “One Pueblo” plan was born out of a collaboration among 21 agencies that are a part of the Business Economic and Recovery Team. The team formed in March to help businesses survive through the coronavirus pandemic.
After a slew of interviews, surveys and meetings, staff with Ady Advantage — the firm hired to help pull together the city’s economic development vision — identified key elements critical to the economic recovery in Pueblo.
“Some of the best and brightest days are ahead for our community,” said Steven Trujillo, director of the Pueblo Latino Chamber of Commerce.
“It is unbelievable what the team has accomplished in the last nine months. They have been very tenacious on behalf of moving forward,” said Jeff Shaw of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp.
Shaw said the vision statement outlines the goal.
“Pueblo County is a dynamic, forward-thinking community of choice in Colorado that offers unparalleled opportunities to offer economic prosperity to its residents,” he read. “Now is Pueblo’s time — let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Pueblo's perception problem
The plan outlines Pueblo’s strengths and weaknesses.
“The Pueblo region suffers from a severe image and perception problem. While the state of Colorado is viewed as innovative, forward-thinking and progressive, the Pueblo region is viewed as traditional, stagnant and rooted in industry and ways of the past,” according to the executive summary report from the Ady Advantage staff.
“There is a lack of knowledge and appreciation for the advanced manufacturing and new technologies that are growing in the region. Furthermore, there is a perception that the Pueblo region has poor school districts and high crime, which can be a deterrent to the attraction of new talent to the region,” the summary reads.
Residents who were surveyed indicated schools and crime are the two most important quality of life factors. The Ady report indicates the perceptions of Pueblo are held by both residents and outsiders.
“Stakeholders noted that Pueblo residents can be some of the harshest critics of the community and can be discounting or dismissive of the positive developments happening in the Pueblo region,” the report reads.
The report also outlines other roadblocks to economic development including scarcity of good talent available to employers; the availability and cost of child care; infrastructure barriers from utilities to broadband Internet; and housing challenges.
Janet Ady of Ady Advantage said developing a workforce will be one of the most critical building blocks to getting new businesses in Pueblo.
Timothy Mottet, president of Colorado State University Pueblo, said about 60 percent of the college’s graduates “leave the area to pursue their careers elsewhere. I know many of them would prefer to stay in our region of Southern Colorado.
"The vision statement is bold and inspiring, and that is something we very much want to be a part of,” Mottet said. “We need to continue to develop the rich manufacturing base that this city was founded on, but the plan also challenges us to look at ways we can diversify our economic development of our region to complement our strength.”
Pueblo's positives include nonprofit work, two colleges
The report also highlights Pueblo’s positives which will be major boosters to economic recovery including its nonprofit organizations which “are playing an essential role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic," as well as the presence of Pueblo Community College and CSU Pueblo, making Pueblo one of the few communities of its size to have access to both a 2-year and 4-year college.
Other positives are the Pueblo region’s attractiveness to remote workers looking to escape big cities. Shaw said the pandemic really brought that asset to the forefront as people are looking to “enjoy the unbelievable quality of life we have here in Pueblo."
Opportunities for growing and emerging industries are prevalent in Pueblo.
The report states that “Pueblo has a mix of essential assets that make it very competitive for the manufacturing industry, like road and rail infrastructure and the abundance of water from the Pueblo Reservoir. Pueblo also has a skilled production and manufacturing workforce that can be leveraged towards opportunities in high-skilled advanced manufacturing industries like aerospace and defense, chemicals manufacturing and precision component manufacturing."
“I think that the Pueblo team was already well positioned to move forward before COVID. Let’s take this as an opportunity to step on the gas and let’s create our own future,” Ady said. “It all bodes well for Pueblo and the Pueblo region which is resilient and working together.”
Pueblo used 2020 as a year to plan
Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar said many might look at 2020 as a lost year, but in Pueblo it was a year to plan.
“This was an opportunity,” Gradisar said. “How do we make Pueblo the place where people want to live and work?
"How do we increase housing and how do we market Pueblo? It’s just the beginning — now we work to implement the plan,” Gradisar said.
The report goes on to highlight some areas where Pueblo might want to make its mark, including food and beverage processing and the hemp-related industry.
“Food and beverage processing is a very competitive industry for the Pueblo region. It also cooperates with the hemp-related target industry as it relates to the agricultural and crop production sub-sectors that support both these broader industries,” the report reads.
The access to water keeps food, beverage and hemp at the higher-priority level.
There are risks and rewards of business opportunity in Pueblo
Although the hemp industry provides significant opportunity and potential, the report indicates there also is some risk.
“The Pueblo region is well-positioned to capitalize on opportunities in hemp products such as paper products, composites for automobiles, food, building materials, nutritional products” and more, the report reads.
The report states that the risk of the emerging industry include, “it is untested and unproven on a historical and national scale,” there is uncertainty surrounding government regulations and there is the potential for the market becoming saturated with communities trying to capitalize on the same opportunity.
Pueblo already is home to hemp-related businesses. Veritas Farms grows hemp for hemp oil cultivation in Western Pueblo County and Folium Biosciences recently completed buildout for a cannabinoid extraction and purification facility in the former Andrews Foodservice building in Pueblo West.
The future goals of One Pueblo include vision alignment, optimizing the workforce, foundational infrastructure improvements, targeting industry and positioning Pueblo as an innovate, forward-thinking place for businesses and workers.
For details, visit supportingpueblo.com/bert.
Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business and Fremont County news. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.