COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - An estimated 400 people attended the 11th annual El Paso County State of the Region address Thursday at the Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs.
The keynote speaker was County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who is finishing her third and final term on the Board of Commissioners and currently is chairwoman of the group.Clark said for the first time since 2011, recovering from wildfires and floods wasn’t the main theme of the State of the Region event.
“I’m happy to report the state of the region is strong and we’re well-positioned for continued growth and prosperity,” she said. “The news is much more encouraging today than it was…in 2006…(at) the first state of the county address.”
Clark said in that year, an economic recession had begun and the county reduced its budget by $45 million over several years.
That was followed by the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest wildfires and subsequent flash flooding.
“Today, we’re telling a much different story,” she said.
Retail sales and use taxes on building materials have increased 6.1 percent and 27 percent, respectively, this year, Clark said — a sign that the county’s economy is getting stronger.
Clark said the change in county fortunes is because of cooperation among city, county and state authorities, as well as with nonprofit groups and neighborhood organizations.
The new Westside Avenue Action Plan Project, and the Interstate 25 interchange projects at Baptist Road and Cimarron Street, are examples of that cooperation, Clark said.
“It’s unprecedented cooperation,” she said. “It’s a big deal.”
Clark said she and her fellow commissioners add their support to an increasing public demand of widening the interstate between Monument and Castle Rock.
“We can’t wait 10 years for it to happen,” she said.
Clark said the county is working on a project to ease traffic congestion at Fort Carson’s Gate 19.
Amid the recent local success, Clark said other troubling issues remain.
“We have 16,000 calls for child abuse and neglect,” she said. “We have one of the highest teen suicide rates in he country. And there are still many veterans who need assistance. Our veterans service office has taken 37,000 calls this year.”
Clark ended the event by presenting several achievement awards to several community and elected leaders.
The Economic Development Project of the Year Award went to the county housing authority for its work to provide more affordable housing.
The Person of Influence Award went to Perry Sanders for his work in saving and renovating historic downtown buildings such as the Mining Exchange Wyndham Hotel and Springs Orleans restaurant.
The Public Employee of the Year award went to Roger Lovell of Pikes Peak Regional Building for updating flood zone maps to reduce insurance costs and making the department more efficient.
The Making a Difference Award went to two former commissioners, Jeri Howells and Marcy Morrison, for public service.
The Elected Official of the Year Award went to Merv Bennett, president of the Colorado Springs City Council, for helping to encourage regional cooperation and collaboration.
Thursday’s event was sponsored by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, which is returning to that name after several years of being the Regional Business Alliance.