Military tops chamber’s legislative priorities

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The Colorado General Assembly convenes Wednesday, and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce has listed its top priorities for the session.

Among them: raising the Springs’ profile among lawmakers, advocating for the military and the addition of Fort Carson aviation brigade, improving K-12 education, bolstering the local sports scene and reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses.

The chamber isn’t necessarily focused on individual pieces of legislation, said Chamber President of Government Affairs and Public Policy Stephannie Finley. Instead, “we’re going to use other vehicles — amendments, resolutions — to move our policy forward,” she said.

The chamber’s legislative goals are developed with the help of a 35-member committee that meets weekly.

“We don’t do this in a vacuum,” Finely said. “These folks spend a l ot of time — and they are very passionate.”

The effort to raise the city’s profile appears to be off to a good start, Finely said.

Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper named several members of the Springs’ business community in his transition team — County Commissioner Sallie Clark, El Pomar CEO Bill Hybl and Springs Black Chamber President Jim Stewart.

“We want to see a greater collaboration,” Finley said. “We’re all on the same team, but it seems that people get stuck with what they’re doing — and it’s very Denver-centric. That stretch of highway seems to make the Springs invisible.”

The military

The chamber is hoping to focus the rest of the state’s attention on the importance of the military economy — and to ask for the legislature’s help in expanding the military presence in Colorado.

“We have to be vigilant about protecting our military assets,” Finley said. “BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) is coming, there are already rumors of it. We have to also work to grow it, letting people know how helpful the military is to the economy.”

Maintaining the military’s presence in the state — along with the defense contractors that support the Department of Defense — is vital to the state’s economy.

“We’ve already heard some negative rumblings from the Boulder area,” she said, “so it’s our job to educate people about what the military does for the state.”

The chamber will be asking the General Assembly for a resolution supporting the Army’s proposal to move a combat aviation brigade to Fort Carson. The move could bring an additional 3,000 soldiers to the Springs, and add tens of millions of dollars in construction projects.

“We’re going to be asking our elected officials to work on getting that brigade here,” she said. “That’s a major component of our strategy.”

Education

The chamber’s legislative committee viewed the United Way’s recently issued quality of life indicators annual report with alarm — particularly the section about education.

That’s why the chamber plans to encourage lawmakers to take the “long view,” Finley said.

“We want to make sure they are looking at all areas of education — early-childhood education, third-grade reading scores, those are predictors of success and for problems later in life. We want to explore ways to cut those problems off at the pass,” she said.

The chamber isn’t pushing any specific piece of education legislation, but hopes to influence any K-12 legislation toward improving reading scores in Springs schools.

Sports

One of the suggestions from a 2009 Angelou Economics’ Operation 6035 study was to focus on the amateur sports industry in the Springs. While it won’t have any legislation concerning amateur sports, the chamber is pushing the sports economy as a vehicle to improve the community’s economy.

“We’re going to possibly try some amendments or work with some different actions that will spur incentives here,” Finley said. “We’re going to work to build on having the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) here and to bring some other sports groups to Colorado.”

The new director of state tourism could help in those efforts, promoting national sporting events that are annually held in the Springs, she said.

“We also are going to focus on tourism in general,” Finley said. “We’re really looking at things that could affect businesses positively here.”

Regulatory reform

As it typically does, the chamber will once again push for less regulation of business this year.

“Our business people feel like they have a lot of challenges right now,” Finley said. “And they don’t want to have to deal with any more regulation, one more piece of paper. It really adds up.”

The uncertainty of upcoming regulation is keeping companies from hiring, she said.

“This is something everyone could agree on,” she said. “The burden of the paperwork, the additive nature of it, it’s too much for businesses.”