Despite pandemic and recent layoffs, Pueblo poised for strong 2021

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PUEBLO, Colo. — The forecasts were bleak in the beginning of the pandemic. With knowledge about the virus and how long it would stick around being limited, some forecasts coming into Mayor Nick Gradisar’s office showed monthly declines in revenue upwards of 70%, some annualized projections expected sales tax revenue to tank 20%.

But the worst-case scenarios were just that, as Pueblo ended 2020 with a 3.6% increase in sales tax revenue from 2019 to 2020.

“We were absolutely ecstatic that it wasn’t as bad as some people predicted,” Gradisar said.

The Mayor said it’s “not all rosy” as the city will need to dip into reserves to balance the budget, but not nearly the $7.1 million in his original budget request.

Mayor Gradisar acknowledges that the pandemic has been hard on many—namely restaurants and retailers but also hotels as lodging taxes dropped 22% year to year—his optimism comes from looking forward.

At the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, they look at similar cities to compare its status.

“Pueblo actually fared pretty well, probably better than many communities have,” President and CEO of PEDCO Jeff Shaw said.

The reason likely lies in the city’s manufacturing industry and construction sector, according to Mayor Gradisar and Shaw.

They point to increased construction and the sale of building materials that have buoyed sales tax revenues.

Gradisar points a deal made with the Evraz Steel Mill that pays out the sales tax in advance on the facility’s expansion project. He says about $177,000 of taxes are paid each month over the next three years.

“I think it’s very hopeful for us that some of those industries remain strong and that they’ll be able to help us pull through this,” Mayor Gradisar said. “Homebuilding, for instance, I expect to take off in Pueblo dramatically.”

The growth comes in tow to some of Colorado’s strictest COVID-19 related restrictions but in by local governments. Gradisar implemented a curfew for the final 60 days of 2020 as the county’s numbers showed some of the fastest spread of Front Range Communities. Now, Pueblo County is one of the largest populated counties to be in the “Blue” or “Cautious” level on the state’s COVID-19 Dial.

“I think we can see that some of those restrictions on activity have really paid off,” Mayor Gradisar said.

Not all manufacturing in the city is booming however, as the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas announced lay offs of 120 people on Friday.

“Any employment drop is concerning for the employees that are working there, but it’s not significant in the grand scheme of things,” said Shaw.

The facility in Pueblo builds more towers for wind turbines than anywhere else in the world.

Another Vestas facility in Colorado closed and Shaw believes Pueblo’s history of manufacturing, particularly steel, is one reason why Pueblo’s shop is staying open.

“We know it’s in a strong position,” Shaw said. “We’re obviously very hopeful and confident that they will continue strong and we also know from our organizations and how the community handles manufacturing that we’re going to stay with them and do everything we can to keep them strong and keep them here for as long as possible.”

Shaw said PEDCO and other economic development and business advocacy organizations have teamed up during the pandemic and have aligned their missions to better help Pueblo’s recovery.

Part of the initiative, dubbed “One Pueblo,” shifts the communities approach to marketing. Shaw says they will now be more aggressively targeting companies from other cities or towns and encouraging them to relocate or expand in the Steel City.

“We see 2021 as a very pro-growth opportunity in Pueblo,” Shaw said.

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