I recently attended the annual meeting of Downtown Colorado Inc., the statewide association of downtown managers and organizations, special-improvement districts and professional service vendors that specialize in downtown rehabilitation and revitalization.
This years theme was Adjusting to a Changing Economic Landscape. The Downtown Colorado Inc. staff did a great job; the workshops were informative, the speakers interesting and the city of Glenwood Springs was a gracious sponsor and host.
But what stood out was the message that Colorados downtowns can play the leading role in the states overall economic rebound.
Here are a few boiled-down supporting trends:
b Downtowns are uniquely positioned to adapt best to the new economic realities. First, the concept of livability favors vibrant urban areas (key word: vibrant).
Livability factors mean a combination of higher density, quality and affordable urban housing that is close to work, dining, social and cultural amenities, and public transit, all in a stimulating environment that is safe, clean and walkable. The message is that limited public and private resources should be focused on efficiently and effectively providing or improving those factors that keep downtown vibrant and livable. Are we doing that?
b The second trend is that bottom-up job-growth strategies are here to stay job creation will not come from large corporations. Because of technological advances, small businesses can best advance the local economy in the near term. Communities that want to see small business growth or new business incubation should be active in identifying local market opportunities, sourcing suitable work spaces, assembling local capitalization and supplying business support services. Are we doing that?
The upside from corporate downsizing is that skilled unemployed people are seeking new career opportunities, better quality lifestyles and pursuing entrepreneurial interests in desirable small-town environments.
Local economic development leaders must remain focused on supporting, competing for and attracting small business.
b There is an emerging trend of flip-flop from job shortage to worker shortage. While near-term job shortage is a problem, baby-boomer retirements will accelerate in 2018, resulting in not enough younger workers to replace them.
The forecast is that businesses will seek to locate where highly skilled labor has chosen to live, work and play. Research of younger workers (generation X and millennials) shows that the most-preferred and desirable places to live are vibrant urban environments, not in suburbia. The message is to keep our talented young workers from leaving our community and work diligently on the factors that keep our community an attractive place to work, start a business or to relocate. Are we?
The bottom line is that a safe, clean, vibrant and economically strong downtown is the centerpiece attraction and primary asset of a city. That fact should serve as a catalyst to motivate decision makers to dedicate available resources to a steady and unwavering course of downtown preservation, vitalization and upgrading.
We have a great downtown but one that could still be improved. A footnote: Downtown Colorado Inc., has just announced its selection site for the September 2011 annual conference: Durango.
email@example.com Bob Kunkel is special events and business coordinator for Durangos Central Business District.