A mission of utmost importance

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The promise of it sounded so good. Wind-powered streetlights. Rooftop systems that would produce all the electricity a typical homeowner needs. Electricity meters spinning backwards. Tens, hundreds, even thousands of high-paying jobs coming to Colorado Springs.

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. announced that Rocky Wind Power would expand to Colorado Springs from Shenandoah, Iowa, where its parent company, Prevailing Power, manufactured renewable energy devices.

“This could be the next large growth industry for the future, eventually employing 1,000 or 10,000 people,” said Mike Kazmierski, the chief of the EDC.

Mayor Lionel Rivera also got on board. Rocky Wind, he said, could help Colorado Springs Utilities meet a state requirement to obtain 10 percent of its electrical power from renewable sources by 2020. The city also would apply for state grants to buy the company’s wind-powered streetlights to replace some of the thousands of traditional streetlights the city has turned off as a result of budget cuts, he said.

It all sounded too good to be true — and it was. Before 24 hours had passed, the EDC had learned some unpleasant truths.

It appeared that the company’s products had frequently failed to perform as advertised. As detailed by Colorado Springs Business Journal reporter Amy Gillentine, customers had paid as much as $25,000 for wind-powered systems that had not generated a single watt of electricity. Complaints have been filed with the Iowa Attorney General, who is investigating a wide range of allegations against Prevailing Power.

Fortunately, although the EDC and the elected officials who attended the press conference announcing Rocky Wind’s planned relocation were deeply embarrassed, no lasting harm was done. Relocation incentives offered to the company did not include any upfront payments, so local taxpayers were not on the hook.

Kazmierski has what he believes is an adequate explanation:

“None of the information on the internet or at the state attorney general’s office was available when we started to work with them (the company) last summer,” he said.

That may be true, but other similar jobs-creating organizations carefully vet candidates for relocation, and do so throughout the recruiting process. If the EDC began the recruiting process last summer and failed to further investigate the company at the time the deal was inked, that’s a glaring failure of due diligence.

Moving forward, the organization should be far more open and transparent about its activities. It’s all very well to claim that a degree of secrecy is crucial when wooing candidates for relocation, but Springs businesses and residents need to have confidence in the process.

It goes without saying that we at CSBJ firmly support the EDC in bringing jobs to Colorado Springs.

The EDC’s mission could not be more important, and that’s why the organization is, even in these tight financial times, partially supported by contributions from Colorado Springs Utilities. Recipients of such support must accept scrutiny and, yes, criticism.

The EDC deserves our support. It also needs to abandon its present defensive posture and move forward quickly — and openly — to reform the organization’s approach to recruitment.

Snake-oil salesmen and fraudsters will always be with us, so let’s make sure that the EDC does all it can to protect our reputation and our tax dollars.