Colorado Springs economic development officials say Huntsville, Ala., “gets it.”
After a four-day visit to the Rocket City last week, officials from the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. say the Springs can learn from Huntsville.
“It’s probably the best model city we could ever hope to find,” said David White, EDC executive vice president of marketing. “We’re similar in size, we’re both DoD (Department of Defense) cities. But they understand the value of investment.”
Investment is the key difference, said Mike Kazmierski, CEO of the EDC.
“Their culture is different, they’ve built a team and that team is committed to public-private investment in business,” he said.
That commitment can be seen in Huntsville’s many business parks.
“They have 12 city-owned business parks,” Kazmierski said. “They purchase the land, lease it, and build the infrastructure. They don’t expect a developer to do that. And it’s taken off — one business park has more than 300 tech companies.”
What can Colorado Springs learn from the success of a city so similar — yet so different?
“I think we’ll be following up with leaders in the community about the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) before it happens next time,” Kazmierski said. “Huntsville put tremendous energy into the BRAC in 2005, and they got the Army’s Materiel Command.”
That command led to other commands — and 10,000 new jobs in the city. Those jobs came with an average salary of $85,000.
But first, the city had to build 14 4,000-square-foot houses suitable for general officers. The surprising thing? They did it, and donated the houses to the Army. The result was their first four-star command. (Colorado Springs has two four-star commands).
Some of the economic development plans taken by Huntsville leave Kazmierski feeling threatened. At last month’s Space and Missile Conference in Huntsville, the city’s mayor announced a new business park, just outside the gates of Redstone Arsenal, and dedicated solely to cyber security research and development.
That hits a little too close to home for Kazmierski.
“We have that command here,” he said. “And it represents tremendous opportunity for us. What we’re worried about is — because of these investments — the command will be here, but everything else will be done in Huntsville.”
That’s bad news, he said, because defense companies tend to follow government wherever it has its operations.
“They go where the contracts are,” he said. “They follow the commands, they follow the decision-makers.”
The Springs, he said, needs a more aggressive approach to developing its own infrastructure. Huntsville does more than invest in business parks; it also invests in roads, in arts and in culture.
“There’s a significant amount of investment downtown in the cultural scene,” he said. “Again, it’s that public-private partnership.”
Colorado Springs is doing some things right, he said. It has the right mix of businesses, but that very diversity makes it more difficult to brand the city.
“Huntsville knows what it is about,” he said. “They have the sole focus of defense, of government agencies. We have a more diverse economy, but it makes it harder to get our arms around a specific brand.”
Kazmierski clearly wishes for better local partnerships that are the hallmark of doing business in Huntsville. Those partnerships are difficult to establish in the Springs, where limited government is often the preferred route, he said.
“We have people here who believe that government’s role is to do nothing,” he said. “Doing nothing means our kids might well be working in Huntsville.”
Why is Huntsville doing a better job of attracting aerospace companies? Read the Business Journal’s special report.