With the national economy still on shaky ground, opinions are mixed – but optimistic overall – about the health of the Falcon economy, housing industry and community as a whole.
Looking back at 2012, Eastern Plains Chamber of Commerce treasurer Tom Cline said, “The economy (in Falcon) has been hurt. The uncertainty of the national economy has not helped it at all, and we’re so vulnerable anyway because we’re a small community that a slight drop of revenue for some of these businesses will kill them.
“The economic health of Falcon is very dependent on the economic health of America. Foreclosures mean there’s a customer that won’t be buying things. Until the unemployment rate goes down and foreclosures go down, it’s going to stay this way.”
Mike Lucero, owner of La Mission, said he thinks the Falcon economy is gaining ground. “When I first came into Falcon, I thought the economy was really shaky,” he said. “Since then, it’s gotten a little bit better as the years have gone by.”
Lucero, who owned a restaurant in Lamar, Colo., brought La Mission to Falcon in 2008. “The economy in 2012 has improved since 2009 and 2008,” he said. “It’s gotten to be more stable. The first two years of starting the restaurant were the toughest, but since then, I think Falcon has supported the business, and we’ll be OK.”
Gary Page, owner of Swirly Cow Frozen Yogurt, just opened his shop toward the end of 2012. “I would say that the economy in the Falcon area is not too bad,” Page said. “Business was increasing up until the (presidential) election, and after the election it’s leveled off or slowed down. I’m not sure if the election has anything to do with it, or if it’s because of Christmas and people are buying Christmas presents instead.”
Despite Swirly Cow’s venture into the area, Cline said businesses aren’t moving to Falcon as much as they were in the past.
Making it easier to open a business in Falcon is a top priority for Amy Lathen, El Paso county commissioner. “We are continuing to work on the land development code, which is where we really impact people … with regulations,” Lathen said. “We’re trying to reduce those so we don’t get in the way of them (business owners) or of property owners.”
She said businesses often opt to open shop elsewhere when they realize that regulations to build or bring in a business are difficult in Falcon. “I’ve watched businesses try to get started, and the code can be way too bureaucratic,” Lathen said. “We’ve gone in and intervened and tried to resolve that but there have been issues where there is an impact, and that’s not acceptable. We’ve made just about 300 changes (to the code) and we’re taking more steps to change as needed.”
Home sales creeping up
Lathen said the housing industry has seen a small increase, which could indicate good things on the horizon. “There’s not been anything really huge in what we have seen and what we’ve been seeing,” she said. “But there has been a little bit of an uptick in the Falcon housing area. Not much, but it’s not down.”
Bob Croft, deputy building official and development coordinator for the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, agreed that the housing industry has realized a slight upward trend in 2012. For all of El Paso County, Croft said the PPRBD projected 1,500 permits for 2012. “We’ve surpassed that estimation to almost 50 percent over it,” he said. “It looks like we’re having a very good December, too.”
For unincorporated areas of the county, Croft said, “In January, we started off with 27 building permits and that was the lowest month this year. The second lowest was November, with 40; and, as of Dec. 13, we’ve had 37.” In areas outside of city limits, the PPRBD issued 804 permits from Jan. 1 to Dec. 13, he said.
Sales of existing homes also increased in 2012, said Craig McConnell with Avalar Real Estate Solutions. “When you look at the homes that have sold in Falcon, Peyton and Calhan in 2011, 411 were sold,” he said. “In 2012, 467 were sold so you might say we’ve gotten a 12 percent increase in sales.”
The tight-knit feel of a smaller community is one of the factors drawing people to the area, McConnell said. “I think safety is definitely on their mind,” he said. With 58 percent of his closings on houses in the Falcon/Peyton/Calhan area and 32 percent in Colorado Springs, McConnell said people are trading off potentially longer commutes for their own water wells, no covenants and a lack of “things happening, like in the city,” he said.
“For the first time in five years, we’re getting multiple offers on the same property,” McConnell said. “Falcon is strong and when something (a property) comes up and it’s a good buy, it goes quickly. This is our best year and we’ve been here for 10 years. It’s getting much tougher to get financing though, and if it would loosen up a little bit, I think it would be better but it’s been a good year overall.”
Randy Pieper, chief executive officer for Farmers State Bank, said the bank’s lending has increased. “Our loans have grown from a year ago (2011) by 5.25 percent,” Pieper said. “It’s not a dramatic growth, and we’re not shrinking either. We have not seen an increase in our delinquency levels, which means loans that are on the books – our customers – aren’t having any more trouble than they had in prior years. Actually, we’re doing a little better. We’re not having the same delinquency issues that we had in 2008.”
“The tragedy with the (Waldo Canyon) fire has actually spurred some economic activity, which has increased some building and is putting people back to work.”
Pieper said that while the economy is doing better, a full recovery is going to be a slow process. “People have adjusted their spending habits to fit their income level, and I think before the crash they were spending outside their means,” he said. “They’re getting better at budgeting their money. Overdrafts have decreased dramatically, which means people are paying attention to their checkbook and being smarter about their money.”
A healthy community; a healthy school system
Don Begier, acting chief education officer for Falcon School District 49, said the health of a community plays a role in the health of a school district, and vice versa. “It’s a synergistic relationship,” he said. “The strength of the leadership of the business community down to the individual leaders affects the district. If they (the leaders) have a voice and they’re letting that voice be heard in the community and the school district that is critical. When the community and parents don’t feel engaged with the district, I think that’s when it’s more difficult for us to gain an understanding of what our parents and community want.”
The health of a school district is vital to a healthy community. “I would say this is the healthiest I’ve seen the district,” Begier said. “We’re the second healthiest in the 20 biggest districts in the state.”
“On the practical side, we have a significant effect economically,” he said. “We give students the skills to solve existing challenges in a society or community, but more importantly we give them the problem-solving skills to solve issues that have not yet been identified. We give them that adaptability. Whatever this generation’s race to the moon is we need to help them prepare to win it.”