Colorado Springs Workforce Panel Discusses Future of Hospitality Industry and Social Impact Businesses | Company

Waiting tables, working the counter at a fast food restaurant, or chopping vegetables in a restaurant kitchen might not be your dream job, but it can lead to something much bigger.

Doug Price, president and CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, the city’s convention and visitor bureau, highlighted the potential for career growth in the hospitality and leisure industry during a panel hosted by by the National Association of Workforce Boards.

The panel was part of the association’s annual summer meeting, held this week in Colorado Springs to learn more about the workforce in the city and the Pikes Peak area. The Washington, D.C.-based association represents Workforce Development Councils across the country to educate about economic development and help workforce resources meet employer needs. The panel brought together community business leaders to discuss the strengths and challenges facing the workforce in various industries in the region.

The hospitality and leisure sector, which has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, led the way in job gains in June in Colorado, adding 2,300 jobs, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health. State of Labor and Employment. But it is still below pre-pandemic employment levels.

Price stressed the need to shine a light on potential career growth in the industry, to show that workers are not trapped in one place if they pursue a job in a restaurant or hotel.

“We really have to focus … on people who built their careers and they absolutely started in the kitchen,” Price said. “…They went from there to there for now they are the executive chef supporting a family.”

He noted that the employment problem is not unique to Colorado Springs, but is a problem plaguing the industry across the country.

According to a report by the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress, hospitality and recreation still have the largest gap between current employment and pre-pandemic employment of 1.53 million workers, representing the three quarters of the total shortage of workers.

Price also discussed the importance of the revival of downtown Colorado Springs, with recent additions such as Weidner Field and the US Olympic & Paralympic Museum, in attracting both workers and visitors.

“Downtown is a huge attraction for both lifestyle and visitors,” Price said.

Other panelists included Debbie Miller, president of the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce; Mike Webb, Fort Carson human resources manager; and Jonathan Liebert, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and CEO and co-founder of the Springs-based National Institute for Social Impact.

Miller discussed unique challenges for businesses in rural areas, such as internet access and availability of health care.

“We have a different definition of rural,” Miller said. “It’s an acquired taste, it really is.”

Webb spoke about his role in helping military spouses and military personnel leaving the military find work. Up to 500 military personnel leave Fort Carson each month, 60% of whom remain in Colorado Springs. Webb strives to help these families integrate into the workforce without having to “start from scratch”.

Liebert discussed the importance for employers to focus on social impact, as it is a value for younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z. Employers who focus on social impact should not have no problem hiring, Liebert said.

“How does your industry integrate social impact into what you do?” Liebert asked. “If you don’t, you will go bankrupt.”

Michael A. Bynum