From a city on the mend to a city on the rise, Pueblo is changing its tune
Once Colorado’s “Steel City” Pueblo has been forced to re-imagine the face of its industry over the past three decades and that new image is starting to flourish.
“I really enjoy the area, the outdoors, the events around here and, of course, the cost of living,” said Joan Peters, 44, who moved to Pueblo from Denver in 2014 and has no regrets. “I was tentative to move, because of everything I had heard about Pueblo being the armpit of Colorado and what not. Now I’m not so sure those rumors weren’t just made up by people from Pueblo to keep everyone else out.”
They weren’t. Pueblo, in fact, has been striving to lure a wide variety of big and small businesses from a gamut of industries to the city. Though progress has been slow going, the city’s efforts are starting to take shape and the local economy is beginning to thrive as a result.
After the U.S. steel market’s crash in 1982, Pueblo – whose workforce and suppliers depended almost exclusively on steel at the time – began to look for alternative forms of infrastructure to revive the city. With that in mind, the city created the Pueblo Economic Development Corp (PEDCO) to lead its economic development efforts. Through a half-cent sales tax enacted in 1984, PEDCO has used its funding for economic development incentives, funding certain capital projects and equipment purchases for new and expanding businesses.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Peters, who moved to Pueblo after accepting a job offer with CBD Bio-sciences, the largest hemp-oil processing facility in the nation. “I was living in a 700-square foot house that cost me a hair over $250,000 in downtown Denver. I spent almost $100,000 less than that for a two-bedroom, two-bath home here. And I’m making more money. It’s awesome.”
Exponentially lower housing costs are certainly a driving factor for people relocating to Pueblo from Colorado’s other metropolitan areas, but it means little if there are no jobs available.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pueblo has steadily been gaining jobs since hitting a low of 56,000 in August of 2009 to its current total of 62,700. That steady growth has been aided by the construction, education and health services industries, which have seen the largest amount of growth recently.
Just as it was hit hard by the recession of the 80s, Pueblo also felt adverse effects of the economic recession at the end of the 2000s. Unlike its neighbors to the north, Pueblo’s recovery from the latter recession lasted much longer. As recently as 2013 the city had an unemployment rate of 11.1 – the largest among Colorado’s economic hubs. That rate, however, has dropped to 3.6 per preliminary data from the BLS.
According to PEDCO, the city’s primary concentration for growth is on four industries: outdoor recreation, hemp, rail and aerospace.
Each has its own hub in Pueblo with United Launch Alliance, United Technologies and Boeing leading the charge in aerospace employment, while Evraz Steel Mills continue to employ thousands in the steel industry. Another primary employer, though not a focal point of PEDCO are the health and education industries where Parkview Medical Center, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center and Colorado State University-Pueblo are primary employers and economic drivers, respectively.
With over 300 days of sunshine reported annually, Pueblo has also taken to the forefront in Colorado on renewable energy usage with its city council making the commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Those favorable weather patterns have also aided in Pueblo converting its outdoor recreation into a fruitful tourism industry.