Pro business culture leads to assessment of groups' focuses

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Members of the business community, like most Pikes Peak region residents, have their wish lists.

Retailers, medical administrators, developers and commuters want an east/west thoroughfare that provides direct cross-town access to goods, services and employment centers. Downtown business owners and managers are holding out for a convention center and a solution to homelessness, two things that they consider key to a more prosperous central business district.

On the city’s burgeoning north side, business owners are hope for a minimal number of delays in construction of additional lanes on Interstate 25 between Monument and the Bijou exit.

Rocky Scott, president of the Economic Development Corp., says companies considering relocation to Colorado Springs want expanded flights to and from the local airport. But Southwest Airlines, as Mayor Lionel Rivera pointed during a speech April 8 to the Southern Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association, would like Powers Boulevard completed to north I-25 before beginning service in Colorado Springs.

Members of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs are asking City Council to keep development fees down, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau would like to see voters approve a lodging and rental tax to pay for increased tourism marketing.

Even the city, Rivera and City Council have a wish list – the Strategic Action Plan 2004-2005 – which includes improved transportation, public safety, infrastructure, economic development, community development and growth, and a highly performing, diverse city work force that delivers cost-effective services to the community.

As comedienne, Gilda Radner said, “It’s always something”

Plenty of challenge to go around

So how does a growing community find a way to get what it wants?

The challenge to build consensus about growth, employment, education, social problems and economic development requires that the area’s pro-business organizations collaborate and work together toward common goals.

The Pikes Peak region is hardly alone in its quest to find answers to these and other problems. Nationwide, cities are facing increasingly complex social and economic issues. Type in “city issues” on the Google search engine and almost 9 million references appear – covering topics ranging from the high cost of housing in San Francisco to record car theft in Phoenix to redevelopment efforts in Dayton. And the situation appears to be becoming increasingly frustrating.

In a January 23 news release, National Conference of Mayors President Jim Garner said that even funding for federally-mandated Homeland Security programs has not come through in 215 cities that were surveyed. “We will continue to closely monitor the flow of federal funds from the states to the cities,” he said. “As I always say, the money went to the states by Federal Express, but went to the cities by Pony Express.”

The Quality Community Group, whose members include The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corp., the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, was founded in September 2002 to provide community leadership through proactive, collaborative action.

According to Mike Kazmierski, the EDC’s chief of operations, the Quality Community Group’s mission statement says the organization will represent the business community and work as a single entity whenever possible to provide leadership in the community.

Kazmierski said that revisions to the mission statement are being discussed – and regular updating may be necessary. “Our community will certainly move forward. There’s a smart way to get out in front of growth – and if we’re successful working together, we can create a solid future for our children.”

And, while a focused effort to address local issues may be a start, at least two of the group’s of members, the chamber and EDC, have decided to address how their organizations can work more effectively together.

Private sector collaboration vital

The private sector is frequently asked to partner with local government to solve social problems and to foster improved economic development.

But all cities are not equally prepared for the job. According to Bill Flis, owner of Heartland Consulting, a former Exxon Mobile executive and a current Colorado Springs resident, the Pikes Peak region can and is preparing its high-energy business and civic communities for the inevitable growth that lies ahead.

“Fortunately, we’re not facing any severe crises yet – and you’ve got an enthusiastic and energetic business community here with excellent pro-business organizations in place,” Flis said.

Colorado Springs, he said, is preparing to address major issues such as transportation, water access and infrastructure through task forces and volunteer committees sponsored by the chamber, the city, the EDC and others groups.

“That structure meets our immediate situation, but down the road, we will need a better way to link pro-business stakeholders to issues management and political activism, ensuring an ‘orchestra model’ – a well-designed process where many individuals work together to produce music, not noise,” Flis said.

He says other cities that have formed pro-business alliances and partnerships to work toward shared goals. The Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and community programs such as those in Knoxville and Tucson have resulted in increased political clout and enhanced collaboration between economic development, business-to-business, downtown, tourism and international trade stakeholders.

“But it’s never a good idea to try to copy what another city does,” Flis said. “Colorado Springs is a very desirable community that will attract its own companies. It’s not located in the Rust Belt like Des Moines and it’s not an international port like Houston. We need to create our own template for effective collaboration.”

Will Temby, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “Few cities have the military community that we do,” he said. “That’s why our Military Affairs Council includes 140 members. We profile very differently than other communities.”

Consensus for now

Flis is not the only voice advocating for improved pro-business, intra-organizational communication. Last fall, several chamber and EDC board members decided to evaluate their internal structures and potential joint operational possibilities.

Though neither organization was ready to adopt sweeping changes, Scott, Temby and chamber board Chairman Tom Naughton say the exercise has been valuable.

“It’s good to ask questions such as ‘Is our current mission on target?’ and ‘Are we as well organized as we could be to meet the needs of the community?’ ” Scott said.

He believes that each organization must look at its own membership bases, goals and structure before addressing external audiences.

“And often we may not agree on how to best approach each issue,” Naughton said. “We have to agree to operate in an atmosphere of respect for each others’ philosophies and goals and we can never expect to be in lock-step with each other.”

Doug Stimple, president of Classic Companies and past chairman of the EDC board, said he was aware that EDC and the chamber had examined their organizational missions, staffing and board structures to determine if a more collaborative, conjoined organizational model might better serve the community.

“I understand after the discussion, both organizations decided that they weren’t duplicating efforts and should continue as independent but collaborative programs,” he said. “They may have saved a little money if they’d co-located, for example, but it wasn’t enough to drive major structural change.”

Stimple said he sees the distinction between the chamber’s business-to-business networking and small business retention programs and the EDC’s efforts to attract new companies, to support higher education partnerships and o
verall quality of life.

Working to address future community needs?

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that El Paso County’s population reached 550,000 in July 2003 – having grown by 30,000 people in three years. Based on those figures, the county population will increase by almost 200,000 residents by 2020.

Lorne Kramer, city manager, sees the current pro-business community as generally effective and collaborative in its approach to city growth issues.

While the city eliminated its Economic Development office, he said that several members were reassigned to the city’s finance department and continue to implement the Business Retention and Expansion Visitation program and assist with fast-tracking new companies through the city approval process. In all cases, he sees the importance of the public and private sectors collaborating.

“I think it’s wise for organizations such as Economic Development Corp., the chamber, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Partnership and others to group together,” he said. “We can generate more dialogue, create better understanding and focus on issues important to us all.”

Kramer said one of those areas is ballot issues, such as the Regional Transportation Authority’s one-cent tax proposal over 10 years. He sees a key role for the business community in informing voters about how the city and county would use the expected $60 million per year to improve cross-town access, repair and re-surface streets, and extend and update the city’s transit system.

“Anyone who lives and works in the city or county will be affected by future growth – we’re all stakeholders,” Kramer said. “Sure, I’d like a one-stop shop where city department heads or managers could go to get the business community involved, but for now I think the collaborative spirit between EDC, the chamber, HBA and other groups is excellent. It’s a good thing because we’ll need everyone’s best efforts going forward.”