Pueblo has seen economic booms and busts and has become quite adept at reinventing itself. With the economic decline of the 1980s, Pueblo citizens partnered with local government and voted in a half-cent sales tax increase to build a program that would assist with economic growth, and thus PEDCO, or the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, was formed. But who – and what – is PEDCO? I met with PEDCO’s new president, Jack Rink, to find out more. PULP: How long have you worked for PEDCO? What is your background?
Jack Rink: I’ve worked for PEDCO since January 1st of 2012. Prior to that time I did executive management consulting for a firm headquartered in Boston, although my family and I lived in Pueblo. I originally moved to Pueblo in 1987 when I was the engineering manager for Trane Company and we were recruited to locate in Pueblo by PEDCO. As a result, I’ve seen economic development from several angles.
PULP: Who is PEDCO?
J.R.: PEDCO is the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation. We are a non-profit organization with the mission to help both new companies and existing firms add primary jobs in the city and county of Pueblo.
PULP: How does PEDCO decide what businesses become established in Pueblo? What kind of commitment does a new or established business have to make to PEDCO?
J.R.: PEDCO welcomes all employers to Pueblo and we cannot turn away any business. However, our mission is to focus on primary jobs. The term “primary jobs” means employers that sell the majority of their products outside Pueblo County. This typically includes manufacturers, distributors and some types of professional services. The logic for primary jobs is that these bring additional investment, wages and benefits to the community. This, in turn, creates secondary employment and spending that improves all parts of the local economy. While PEDCO will help any business, those that qualify for financial incentives from the City half-cent sales tax funds must sign a 10-year employment agreement.
PULP: How does membership work?
J.R.: A common misconception is that PEDCO is funded by the proceeds of the City half-cent sales tax. In reality, all half-cent sales tax money goes to new or expanding businesses and none goes to PEDCO. Most of our operating funds come from local companies and individuals that join as members.
PULP: Tell me about some really exciting things PEDCO’s got going on and how this could improve Pueblo.
J.R.: At any given time PEDCO is dealing with a number of prospects that are in various stages of considering Pueblo. The most exciting part of working at PEDCO is problem solving. Each prospect has its own unique problems and challenges that need to be overcome. Many of the companies that have made Pueblo their new home have brought opportunity and diversity to the community.
PULP: Tell me about some disappointments PEDCO has faced. Could PEDCO have done anything to prevent the outcome?
J.R.: We invest a lot of time, money and energy into each prospect. As a result, we can’t help but get emotionally connected with each project. When one falls through it feels like a personal disappointment – even though we know every prospect is being courted by many other communities that also offer incentives.
PULP: What is the common draw for companies looking to establish in Pueblo?
J.R.: It’s hard to say there is a common draw since each prospect has unique needs. However, some of the major benefits that Pueblo can offer include a motivated workforce, good transportation, outstanding training and education from PCC and CSU-P, low cost of living, and synergy with other local companies. In addition, Colorado has a well-deserved reputation for quality of life which attracts companies to the state and then to Pueblo.
PULP: What kinds of changes or reforms can be made in Pueblo to help PEDCO realize their vision?
J.R.: Frankly, the biggest challenge facing economic development in Pueblo is to improve our city school system. This is the most common concern we hear from prospects and we will never know how many companies don’t even consider Pueblo due to problems they hear and read about. On the positive side, I firmly believe that many local businesses are willing to help solve our education problems when there is an improvement plan that gives them a meaningful role.
PULP: Any suggestions on how to improve them?
J.R.: One unique thing that businesses can do is to show students the exciting careers that can result from a good education. We sometimes forget that we have world-class businesses in the community with cutting edge technologies. Companies can help kids make the connection that the level of education they achieve can provide them with opportunities to accomplish whatever they aspire to.
PULP: How does PEDCO help local established businesses?
J.R.: Our services are available to any existing company that is adding primary jobs. At the moment we have about five prospects that fit this description.
PULP: How successful is PEDCO? In other words, of all businesses that PEDCO has helped, how many of them, roughly, are still doing business in Pueblo?
J.R.: In the world of economic development, PEDCO is widely regarded as a real success story. We probably received the ultimate compliment lately when a prospect informed us [that] another economic development company [had] said, “They hate you guys.” The vast majority of companies we have assisted are still in Pueblo. Of course, many have ups and downs in employment. Some have failed due to world-wide economic conditions, a flawed business model, or left Pueblo as a result of a corporate sale or reorganization. Honestly, I cannot think of a single case where anything about the Pueblo community led to a business failure.
PULP: What does PEDCO’s future look like?
J.R.: I believe that PEDCO’s future looks challenging, exciting and successful. There is no question that economic development is getting more competitive so we will need to be creative and agile to maintain our record of success.
PULP: How do you think the average Pueblo citizen views PEDCO?
J.R.: I honestly believe the average citizen understands the importance of economic development and primary jobs. We often tell prospects the “half-cent sales tax story.” There are very few other communities that value economic development enough that they have voted to tax themselves in order to [attract] new and expanding businesses. It’s a remarkable story that makes prospects realize there is truly something special about the Pueblo community and its people.