Steve Bach stood in front of about 800 civic and business leaders last week, rattled through a laundry list of high points from his first year as mayor, then made perhaps the craziest statement he could have concocted.
"I respectfully ask the Chamber and EDC to ... take the lead in growing the 6,000 new civilian jobs our community will need."
If he had meant 6,000 jobs over the next three to five years, that might have been understandable. As the mayor delivered that message, some listeners might have taken it that way: 6,000 new civilian jobs indeed would make a difference, and would be a nice start toward a full economic recovery.
Ah, but that's not what Mayor Bach meant. His staff, before Bach's State of the City speech, handed out a preview synopsis of his remarks. The themes led up to goals, and the first one couldn't have been more clear.
"Be the most business and citizen friendly city in the United States of America as measured by 1) an average of 6,000 new civilian jobs per year in our region and 2) by citizen satisfaction."
We won't go into how one might "measure" satisfaction. But there was no mistaking "an average of 6,000 new civilian jobs per year in the region."
There also was no mistaking the looks of bewilderment around the Antlers Hilton ballroom as Bach elaborated, admitting the city would add only 627 jobs this year "so we need to increase that 10-fold."
Most in that audience share the realism that has come from experiencing our city's economic decline. They've seen jobs vanish or move away by the thousands. More recently, they've seen defense contractors cringing in fear of sequestration, which could take away many more high-paying jobs if severe cuts in military-related spending are fully implemented.
They also know that Colorado Springs has neither the resources nor the desire to invest heavily in attracting large companies, as other cities and states do. Mention the word "incentives" as a tool for recruiting more high-profile employers, and you won't find many allies here.
So let's get this straight: In an uncertain economy, heading into a volatile presidential election, with the mayor already having suggested that our city is heading toward "insolvency" in a few more years, and with so many companies unsure about their future — amid all that, we're setting a new goal to add 6,000 jobs a year? Without putting serious money behind it?
Sorry, Mayor Bach, but that's not close to realistic. If anything, it's unfair to the Chamber and EDC, which is in the midst of its own restructuring. Sure, the economic development leaders want to set their bar high, but they had not established their own target numbers yet, and 6,000 a year doesn't make sense. It would be one thing if Bach had a few secrets up his sleeve, inside information of multiple big-time employers planning to relocate here. But there's no inkling of that.
Bach should have approached it in a different way. Instead of that recipe for failure, he should have met in advance (which he hadn't) with the Chamber and EDC hierarchy and agreed on a strategy to unveil at the State of the City address. And he could have announced it this way:
"We need some lofty goals for adding jobs, but we know that we can't do it all at once. So we've set up a plan for making this happen, knowing that we have a long way to go. Starting in 2013, we'll aim for 2,000 new jobs, and each year that goal will increase by a thousand, meaning 3,000 new jobs in 2014, 4,000 in 2015 and 5,000 in 2016. That way we can create momentum with higher expectations every year."
He could have sent that message, wrapping it in a new theme, such as "Pathway to Prosperity," instead of such an outlandish, immediate goal.
Actually, shooting for 2,000 in 2013 might be achievable if the economy does improve, the concept of Colorado Springs becoming a mecca for data centers begins to take hold, and El Paso County suddenly emerges as a new epicenter for oil and gas drilling. Down the line, if the Memorial Health System lease is approved and we really do get that University of Colorado School of Medicine campus here, it could produce a new economic generator. But all of that would take several years.
Bach is talking about 6,000 new jobs, next year. And yearly thereafter.
Good luck with that.