Bach: Colorado Springs needs to re-invent its image

Filed under: One on One | Tags:,

Commercial broker and community volunteer Steve Bach got his start in Colorado Springs and would like to see others have the same chance.

His Bach Commercial Real Estate Partners portfolio includes some of the area’s largest transactions. Just last month, Bach’s company handled the sale of the former 185,000-square-foot Macy’s building for $3 million.

As a consultant to many of the area’s most prominent employers, he believes that new jobs should be grown by supporting homegrown companies as well as recruited from other cities.

Question: As a past chairman of Economic Development Corp., what are the city’s strongest selling points and what can we do to market ourselves better?

To market ourselves, we have to think differently. All cities have had the same problems in the last two or three years. City services are being cut. There’s higher unemployment, softer spending, tight credit and an uncertain regulatory environment. It’s not as likely that companies will be moving as much and creating lots of new jobs. Relying on incentives is just “elephant hunting” to buy jobs that might go away. The city, county, EDC and the Chamber need to take an honest look at re-inventing how we present ourselves.

If we take care of our existing employers, they’ll be our biggest salespeople. But cutting off their streetlights, cutting their police coverage and letting our medians fill up with weeds — if they’re asked, they may not recommend us.

As a UCCS alumni and a member of the Chancellor’s Roundtable, how do you see the role of the business community and higher education?

It’s crucial. Pam Shockley has done a wonderful job under very challenging circumstances to develop a world-class campus, the Center for Entrepreneurship and has helped develop degree programs in fields like Homeland Security and Gerontology. That will help keep young professionals here. Our population of those 25-34 has been declining since 2001. That’s very concerning.

As a commercial real estate broker who has been through at least three major downturns, how does this one compare?

It’s the toughest I’ve seen in 30 years. We’ve got 10 million square feet of commercial space that’s empty. That’s because leasing and selling buildings requires jobs — and we’ve seen a net loss of 2,000 jobs in the last 10 years, according to second-quarter 2010 Quality of Life Indicators. It’s vital that we nurture our top employers, help companies with turnarounds and encourage start-ups.

Thinking about the strong mayor proposal, what would you say is the role of a strong mayor?

It’s not just to wait to be contacted. A strong mayor sets the tone, the pace and takes the lead. (Marylou) Makepeace and (Bob) Isaac were both good mayors. They reached out and worked with a wide cross-section, including the business community. We’ve got to have leadership willing to move from reactive to a proactive. A strong mayor would help the city speak with a single voice — resolve conflicts and build collaboration so we can go out and re-brand ourselves as a city that knows where it’s going. “As-is” is not good enough.

Audio excerpt of the interview with Steve Bach.