by Rick Langenberg:
Teller finance and government leaders predict good times
Teller County is slowly climbing out of the deep Great Depression hole, and local financial experts realtors/brokers and government leaders are cautiously signaling the thumbs-up for a promising future. That was the theme of the first annual Teller County Economic Forecast forum, featuring a wide range of speakers representing such local industries as banking and finance, real estate, construction and government, held last week at the Ute Pass Cultural Center.
The well-attended forum, organized by Teller County Assessor Betty Clark-Wine, gave a mostly upbeat picture of the road ahead for Teller County, but one still filled with plenty of bumps. And still, local experts stressed that the area is still suffering from a national and state economic disaster that crippled many businesses, created double-digit unemployment numbers and forced many people out of their homes. Plus, the lending situation remains tight, with more requirements and no more “slap in the back” deals. “We have come a long way. It is getting to where we can breathe again,” said Brad Spivey, chief investment officer and vice-president of Park State Bank & Trust. Spivey, who highlighted national trends, noted that the economic crisis emerged as a”shock to our system,” with the loss of 8.5 million jobs and a $15 trillion decline in net worth across America. “It was Armageddon,” stated Spivey.
As he has in many forums, the investment officer pointed his finger at the “build-up of an excessive amount of debt and credit” for years as the primary culprit. “We had been living the high life for 30 years,” quipped Spivey. “It wasn’t sustainable. It was a build-up of many years of excess.”
He said the often controversial federal stimulus program, coupled with record low mortgage rates, has boosted the economy with the housing market showing the first signs of vitality in years. “The housing market is back into some form of equilibrium,” said Spivey. However, the decline in real estate values, and the reality of a glut of homes on the market nationwide, has still created a few economic strains. This same theme was emphasized locally by real estate experts. According to broker Sharon Roshek, the average sales price for a home in Woodland Park dropped by more than 20 percent between 2007 and 2011. Since then, the market has rebounded, but it still hasn’t reached the plateau of 2007. The decline in real estate markets never quite reached this same level in Divide, Florissant and Cripple Creek, but prices still have fallen from 2007 levels, just prior to when the economy collapsed.
On the upside, Woodland Park and other parts of the county are experiencing an impressive rental market. “The rental market is very high in Woodland Park,” said Roshek. “You have to know someone to get a rental.” Carrie Miller of Gold Country Realty also cited a good rental market in the south part of the county, with the growth of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. She also mentioned much interest by entrepreneurs and out-of-state folks who want to work and live in the mountains. “There are a lot of risk-takers,” said Miller.
Shortages in the multi-housing arena also may become a thing of the past, especially in the north part of the county, if a number of projects move forward. That prediction came from Woodland Park Economic Development Director Brian Fleer. Fleer cited the possibility of developing 400 new housing units in Woodland Park in the next 18 months. This housing surge will take a giant leap forward shortly with the proposed seven-building, 168-unit Trail Ridge Apartments off Hwy. 24 near the center of town.
In addition, the development of the nearly $100 million, 3,000-student Wommack Ministries project, which should open its first phase this fall, will change the economic course for Woodland Park and create a demand for more multi-family housing. “We can hit these market demands,” said Fleer, who remains optimistic regarding Woodland Park’s ability to deal with a desire for more workforce housing and housing for seniors. Despite previous delays, Fleer also gave a robust account of the Woodland Station project, expected to house an expanded 25,000-square-foot hardware store and a future beer garden.
And surprisingly, Victor is one of the real high points in the Teller economic picture, based on presentations at last week’s forum. “If you haven’t heard, Victor is in a renaissance,” said Debra Downs, city administrator for Victor. Downs touted the community’s facelift, infrastructure enhancements, residential and business remodeling, housing efforts and its status as a national main street program, not to mention its growing reputation as a vibrant art hub.
Contrary to past years, she said Victor is on the move. “Victor had been pretty quiet, except for the politics,” quipped Downs, in describing the town’s previous political climate. She heavily praised the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company for the turn-around. “Without CC&V, we may not be at this table,” said the administrator. Still, Downs admitted the town has plenty of challenges, such as dealing with dilapidated buildings owned by out-state owners and bringing many old structures up to code.
Cripple Creek Mayor Bruce Brown, meanwhile, gave a less than stellar report of the state of the local gaming industry. He said coin-in revenue, which represents the total bet volume of overall bets, is down this year. He stated that 2004 was the last big year of solid growth in betting action at Creek casinos. And currently, he warned local business owners and civic leaders that Cripple Creek is engaged in a big fight with Gilpin County over the distribution of gambling revenue. If Cripple Creek loses, he noted that the Creek and Teller County governments could collectively lose about $2 million a year. On the upside, he said the town is pumping more money into marketing and mentioned the recent Ice Festival as a big success.
The loan picture
Will an improving economic situation improve the prospects of securing a business loan? This question was addressed at last week’s forum by both Park State President Tony Perry and Vectra Vice-President Dale Schnitker. Perry advised the forum participants to have a good accountant and book-keeper when applying for a loan and prove you have the ability to pay back the money. “Understand your balance sheet and challenge your bank or lender to work with you,” said Perry. And even with negative media reports about the crunch in bank loan activity, Perry made it clear that “banks have money to lend.” He said their main criteria hinged on the applicant’s “ability to repay” the loan.
Schnitker echoed similar sentiments and noted that the days of “slap in the back” loans, made over the phone or through informal gatherings, are over. He said a lot more regulations now exist. Schnitker, who also serves as the chairman of the Downtown Development Authority Board, believes the economic future for the area is good. “I see us moving forward,” said Schnitker, who described much progress in Woodland Park ridding itself of “distressed” properties that have been targeted by foreclosure proceedings and related debt challenges.
Perry also put in a plug for the region’s potential and the need to shop locally. “The local theme is critical,” said Perry. Another economic plus touted by several forum speakers dealt with the oil and gas boom across Colorado and other parts of the nation. Local finance experts see this as a win/win for the area.