July 1, 2020

Biking Economy of Opportunity for Pueblo

Over time, economies always shift and re-define themselves.

Whether it was the industrial revolution, the post-World War II manufacturing boom, or the continued focus on tech industries over the past 30 years, the American economy has continuously changed.

As the Millennial generation's values for work-life balance helps spark an industry of its own, the next frontier may very well be focused on outdoor recreation and the industries related to that.

If that's the case, Pueblo and Southern Colorado as a whole may be in a prime location to take advantage, especially in the cycling and mountain-biking industry.

The Rocky Mountain region, spanning from New Mexico through Colorado and Utah, have been in a race to court not only the cycling industry, but also outdoor recreation industries as a whole. Southern Colorado, particularly the rich recreational triangle of Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Canon City, have largely been left out of this "bike race."

However, as Colorado continues to become a destination for Millennial professionals, Southern Colorado truly is in a prime position to emerge as a hidden gem where the industry can grow.

"The industry is still in its infancy somewhat," said Jeff Shaw, President and CEO of the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation (PEDCO). "Those companies have flocked more to the Boulder and Fort Collins areas, but we're working to help them understand what Pueblo has to offer."

As it turns out, Pueblo and its surrounding area can offer a lot.

Pueblo is at the center of a rich network of trails that includes not only 200 miles of bikeways in the city of Pueblo alone, but connections to Lake Pueblo State Park, the most-visited state park in Colorado. From there, pathways can go directly through the San Isabel National Forest and Pueblo Mountain Park to the south, Canon City and Royal Gorge territory to the west, and Colorado Springs' front range vistas to the north.

All of it is about a 30-minute drive in either direction.

Jon Severson, the founder of Colorado Springs Young Professionals and an economic expert in the field of cycling and mountain biking, said the area is an untapped resource.

"Between Pueblo, Canon City and Colorado Springs, we have the most miles of bicycle trails that you'll find next to a civilized city," Severson said, "not to mention all the other things we have in it. We all have great culture, great places to eat, and are close to a relatively large airport. It's all right here."

That means that companies that manufacture bicycle parts, for instance, can do field testing on authentic, rough terrain essentially down the street from their headquarters, situated in a much less congested community and region than what's found in Northern Colorado.

At the urban center of this potential Southern Colorado outdoor recreation business hub is Pueblo and its downtown gem, the Pueblo Riverwalk, arguably the finest riverwalk development outside of San Antonio.

In recent years, the Riverwalk and downtown area has attracted the Professional Bull Riders headquarters, and on the outskirts of the city to the east and south, industrial manufacturing facilities are immediately available - all with rich incentives for relocation offered by PEDCO.

It's untapped, both culturally and economically, said Adam Davison, president of Southern Colorado Trail Builders, the region's preeminent cyclist organization.

"People don't think of the activity this area provides," Davidson said. "You can ride through, get coffee and a sandwich, and ride without traffic all the way to Lake Pueblo State Park. When going through most cities, avoiding cars is a luxury. (In Pueblo), it's all accessible."

Physical features aside, Pueblo is also a midway hub of the 4,215-mile coast-to-coast TransAmerica Trail, which attracts the nation's top distance bicyclists. Pueblo has the honor of being the largest city found along the trail. Tapping into miles of trails on Colorado's southern Front Range is just a bonus.

"The things that make Pueblo really interesting from a cyclist's standpoint is the variety and availability of trails in the city and surrounding areas," Davidson said. "Whether you're a coast-to-coast road cyclist that's a hard core Tour de France type or mountain biker, or you're just looking for a family cruise on a bike, it's literally all here."

These factors offer a lot of potential to older members of the Millennial generation that are looking to put down roots to raise families outside of the more avante garde urban centers like Denver, where the generation cut its teeth in their early 20s.

Ironically, Shaw said, the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is hitting hard in tighter-packed metro areas like Denver, provides an opportunity for communities like Pueblo to leverage itself as a destination.

Southern Colorado and Pueblo in particular are better positioned to not only provide a vibrant community for Millennial families, but also give them a community that it can define by its own values, Shaw said.

"All the pieces are in place to help elevate the Pueblo area for a younger workforce that want a certain lifestyle," Shaw said. "The term we use is 'place making,' allowing for a new downtown-type lifestyle to emerge, giving them the opportunity to define the community and tell their own story here."

Severson said the key is convincing the industries, which in large part have set up shop in Utah and New Mexico, to consider Southern Colorado as their hub.

"At the end of the day, Pueblo (and Southern Colorado) has the low cost of living, and inexpensive commercial space that you couldn't snag in places like Seattle, Los Angeles or Denver," Severson said. "With so many other companies in the industry being nearby in New Mexico and Utah, shipping from Southern Colorado to those places makes for lower costs and in turn, provides better conditions to operate."

Davidson said, from the young professional’s perspective, it all comes together to be in Pueblo.

"In comparison with (the Denver area), the population is not as dense. There's not as much congestion," Davidson said. "That's why a lot of people come to Pueblo. There's a crazy amount of variety, and it's all right here."

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