UCCS Economic Forum a much different event after 20 years

UCCS Economic Forum

Tom Zwirlein used an old-fashioned overhead projector with individual transparencies at the first Southern Colorado Business Economic Outlook Forum, which attracted a crowd of 225 to The Broadmoor hotel in 1997, because his Microsoft PowerPoint presentation didn't work.

Twenty years later, Tatiana Bailey has replaced him as director of the event, now called the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Economic Forum, and for the first time, the event won't include a printed version of the forum's booklet filled with economic data about the Colorado Springs area. Attendees will be able to download the booklet from the forum's website, which Bailey said allows her to continue updating economic data until the day before the event, including the August unemployment rate that will be released Wednesday.

In many ways, the goals of the annual event remain the same - to provide a slew of data about the Colorado Springs economy and a forecast for the coming year to local business and community leaders. The local economy was booming when the first forum was held, and after two recessions, is surging once again days before the 21st forum. Up to 600 people are expected at the event, which returns to downtown after two years at The Broadmoor hotel, and is scheduled from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Friday at The Antlers, a Wyndham Hotel, 4 S. Cascade Ave.

"We were putting together the presentation and PowerPoint was new, so we didn't know whether it would work. I brought an overhead projector to show transparencies just in case PowerPoint failed, which it did," said Zwirlein, who started the forum with fellow UCCS faculty member Jeff Ferguson and retired three years ago as the forum's director.

Software problems also led to a very small booklet of the forum's forecast and data in the first year since Zwirlein had written the document in a word processing file type the printing company couldn't open.

Zwirlein and Ferguson volunteered to organize the event after FBB Group President Ron Chernak asked the dean of the UCCS College of Business about launching a local version of the Colorado Business Economic Outlook, which is now in its 53rd year and is scheduled for Dec. 11 in Denver.

The first few events were organized around a survey of local business owners and managers Zwirlein and Ferguson conducted on economic conditions and business expectations for the coming year, and the top concern among those surveyed was the availability of skilled workers.

The forum expanded when Fred Crowley, who previously had been an economist with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, was added in 2001 as its part-time senior economist. He raised the forum's profile by giving economic presentations to community groups year-around and commenting for news stories on economic indicators. Ferguson, a longtime UCCS marketing professor, wasn't involved after the 2001 event, but Zwirlein continued as part-time director while also serving as a finance professor until he retired.

UCCS hired Bailey, who had an extensive background in health care economics, in 2014 as the forum's first full-time director and expanded the organization's work to include dozens of presentations and events, publishing a monthly "dashboard" summary of local and regional economic indicators and works with the Pikes Peak United Way to produce its Quality of Life Indicators. She moved the event back to the downtown area to help "promote a vibrant downtown area. We hope those who attend the forum will stay downtown and go to restaurants and bars there afterwards."

Bailey will present another upbeat forecast for the local economy, where labor availability is once again an issue with an unemployment rate that fell this year to 2.5 percent, the lowest level in the 48 years for which records are available. Other indicators ranging from Colorado Springs sales tax collections and job growth have remained strong amid a booming housing market, robust new vehicle sales, a record-setting tourism season and surging passenger numbers at the Colorado Springs Airport thanks to continued expansion by Frontier Airlines.

"I've been here three years and I get a lot of questions when I do presentations, so I will try to incorporate answers to those questions into my presentation," Bailey said. She also will discuss the Quality of Life Indicators and unveil the workforce asset map. The asset map is a web-based platform designed to be a one-stop place for job seekers, employers and students to get information on subjects ranging from entry-level salaries for various professions, a place for job seekers to post and employers to see resumes, job listings by occupation and links to find mentors and college interns.

Keynote speakers Erik Davidson, chief investment officer and executive vice president of Wells Fargo Private Bank in Chicago, and Michael Serio, regional chief investment officer and managing director of Wells Fargo Private Bank in Denver, will discuss the national economic forecast. For the first time in the event's history, Chernak will not be the master of ceremonies. To appeal more to young professionals, that role will be filled by Samuel Elliott, a UCCS graduate and co-founder of local database company Tejon Technologies Inc.

The event also will include 10 videos by The Gazette with community leaders ranging from Mayor John Suthers and U.S. Olympic Museum Chairman Richard Celeste to Mining Exchange and Antlers hotels partner Perry Sanders and Red Leg Brewing Co. President Todd Baldwin. Suthers will discuss the city's proposal for a stormwater fee that goes to voters in November, while Celeste will discuss progress on the now under construction museum. Sanders will talk about his downtown projects and Baldwin will discuss the microbrewing industry in the Springs and statewide.

"I really feel like the proud parent; the forum is going in a good direction and is good hands. It was certainly the right move to shift the director's job to a full-time position," Zwirlein said.

The forum concludes with a networking happy hour with free beer from Red Leg Brewing.  

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