In last Sunday’s Opinion section, there was a nicely written article by Regina Thomson, president of the Colorado Issues Coalition (whatever that is), titled, “How Coors' departure could help Pueblo.” Ms. Thomson claimed that the Coors brewery was packing up and leaving the state and “now the fate of Pueblo metal manufacturers may hang in the balance.”
Luckily for Pueblo, Ms. Thomson apparently didn’t go to a Pueblo high school, or she would know the difference between aluminum and steel. She must believe that Coors gets all of its raw aluminum for canned beer from the Pueblo steel mill.
Furthermore, it was widely reported that Coors is only taking approximately 300 white collar jobs from downtown Denver and moving them to Chicago. This move has no impact on the iconic Coors brewery in Golden or its aluminum can manufacturing near there.
I suspect she is one of those headline readers and her lobbying senses kicked into high gear.
However, the column did make me pause and wonder why Pueblo is not more of a metals and raw materials manufacturing hub. We manufacture a lot of different raw materials already, like steel, cement, clean energy, mineral water, bricks, food, etc.
Pueblo has this maker culture in our DNA. The tagline “Pueblo Makes” is really starting to take hold in our community. We can proudly say we built the American West. No other U.S. city can make that claim.
We should be proud of that heritage and keep promoting our maker roots as we turn 150 years old next year. There will be lots of celebrations to mark our sesquicentennial. My research took me back to a Colorado Daily Chieftain article published on January 20, 1899. Here’s some of the highlights of the article:
• Pueblo's stability and greatness built upon … the diversity of the city’s plants such as to make it capable, if necessary, of self support and sustenance in food and in all the necessaries of life.
• From the congested centers of New England to the Pacific coast, there is not another city that so merits the name of an industrial center as Pueblo.
• The people of Pueblo are progressive, energetic, awake, intent on improvement of their city and of themselves.
Over the last 40 years, automation, digitization, globalization and the decline of manufacturing have decimated well-paying jobs that once required no more than a high school diploma. Wage and economic inequality also have increased significantly since the early 1980s. It has been rising much more in the booming places that promise hefty incomes to engineers, software developers and innovators.
Thriving and stagnant places are pulling apart from each other. Have you been through Colorado Springs and Denver recently? Highly skilled workers continue to flock to these areas, compounding the advantages of these places.
Companies are also accelerating their investments in automation, which means these trends are likely to continue to impact future job markets. Automation will continue to impact every sector of the economy. These industries are most at risk: Food services, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture. Low and middle wage jobs are generally easier to replace with independent, automated systems. A simple example of this is that every time the minimum wage increases, you see more and more self service kiosks at the fast food restaurants.
So, how can our community continue our maker heritage, while preparing for a vastly different future and ensure we are not left behind in the fourth industrial revolution? How can we end up with our share of a booming, high tech workforce?
We can start by mandating all K-12 classrooms teach digital skills in each grade level. There should be a building block curriculum that develops students with advanced digital skills when they graduate. These skills will be required in nearly all industries and jobs of the future.
Lifelong learning and re-skilling will be standard staples for successful careers. Our local government, in partnership with area community colleges and universities, is a key to developing and maintaining a skilled and resilient workforce. We need to help nurture and support our brightest young companies. We need to engage our college students early on into our community so they are more likely to stay upon graduation and continue to build our talent pipeline.
Our community needs to map out a digital transformation strategy for the next 10-20 years. It should be a key part of a city and countywide strategic plan.
Kurt Madic is a startup community builder who serves on several community boards. He would love to hear the community's ideas for growing Pueblo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.