Two years after Operation 6035 was launched, a key group is being formed to implement its recommendations.
Other than that, there’s little hard evidence of any progress since the initial economic development strategy was published.
Phil Lane was appointed to head the operation in February 2010, and he acknowledged the program hasn’t unfolded as swiftly as might have been desired.
“Could it have proceeded at a faster pace? Sure it could have,” Lane said. “It took me a while to get in with the implementation team, and then it took us some time to refine our ideas on building enduring assets and identifying projects to go after, but ultimately that all falls on me.
“It’s not that work wasn’t being done, we were sweating away in the back room. I just hadn’t developed a concise communication strategy, but hopefully the timing is better now. The forum will need the support of the new administration and new City Council.”
In early 2009 a group of nearly 20 organizations in Colorado Springs hired Austin-based Angelou Economics to detail a long-term economic development strategy for the city. The report cost $160,000; its funders included The Broadmoor Hotel, the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Regional Economic Development Corp., the El Pomar Foundation and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Since then, Operation 6035 seems to have fallen out of public awareness. The last update on its website was of Lane’s appointment over a year ago.
“We lost steam there for about a year,” said Etienne Hardre, whose Peak Venture Group is working with the operation to help small businesses raise their profile.
“Their style has been to point everyone in the right direction and let them do their own thing. I love what they’re doing and I know there is a lot going on behind the scenes, but as a young professional I’m a little impatient. I’m still committed, but I lost some of that activist zeal.”
Next month the operation will finalize the initial participants in a Regional Leadership Forum that will include the EDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the El Pomar Foundation, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the City of Colorado Springs and the Sports Corporation, among others, and Lane said he hopes to grow the group to more than 100 organizations in the future.
But according to the timeline on the website, the leadership forum is only one component in accomplishing the operation’s first goal of enhancing community collaboration and integrating leadership. Still on the docket: expanding resources to foster entrepreneurship, positioning the Pikes Peak region as a talent magnet, connecting economic development resources to higher education, raising the international profile of the region, starting starting a target industry marketing program, and developing sector-specific strategies.
“I think the world has changed dramatically since the effort was first launched,” said Chuck Fowler, who heads an independent watchdog group, the City Committee. “Some of the assumptions they used when they were putting it together may no longer be valid.”
Indeed, the report was commissioned on the heels of the financial market collapse, and has since sat through the housing and unemployment crises. As a result, 6035 leaders had to refocus their attention to those aspects of the report they could affect.
“We had to look at the report holistically. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, but it’s like swallowing an elephant,” Lane said.
“Not everything in the report can be front and center on the action table. We’re concentrating on what we have control over, and that means pulling in the appropriate organizations within the community that can make the bigger things happen.”
Part of the challenge has been deciding just what to do with the report, and what role the operation’s leadership should play. The report was full of specific initiatives, such as “learning the process of selling products overseas” in order to “implement an international recruitment strategy.”
The leadership team has neither the authority nor the means to implement many of the recommendations, while other goals have become untenable in the current economic environment. It soon became clear that the operation needed to be more of an exercise in community representation and participation, and that meant a complete revaluation of the Angelou report.
“We’re doing this out of whole cloth, so Phil had to spend a lot of time talking to stakeholders in the community to figure out a direction,” said El Pomar Vice President David Palenchar. “Then we took it one step further and asked: Why are we doing this? What are our initiatives? Are we a second EDC? Should we be trying to attract businesses here? We decided to focus on those assets in the community that we have direct control over.
“Nobody is going to put a jack under Pikes Peak and drag it away, and there are other institutions here that serve to identify who we are. We’re sorting through those attributes and institutions and hoping to build on their intellectual capital and infrastructure. It’s sort of an upside down approach, but that was the extra step we had to take in looking at the Angelou study.”
There are some signs that activity on the report will ramp up in 2011. Lane said there has been progress in tackling one of the programs’ goals of connecting economic development resources to higher education.
Lane is working with the University of Colorado Medical School to bring students to the Springs for rotations at hospitals and clinics. Some day that could turn into a full-blown residency program; in the short term, Lane expects a handful of students to begin training here within the next few months.
“These are the kinds of projects the forum will be evaluating,” he said. “It’s not a jobs-now thing, but by bringing together UCCS and Penrose or Memorial, it builds on a sustainable asset and it leverages a core strength.”
In addition, the El Pomar Foundation played a critical role in working with the USOC to bring the World University softball and boxing championships to Colorado Springs in 2012. Palenchar said these kinds of collaborative efforts will be the focus of the program.
Councilman Sean Paige said the city needs to be a part of that collaboration by clearing the way for Operation 6035’s long-term objectives.
“I like what the group is doing in trying to implement a long-term vision, but getting rid of the regulations and hassles the city imposes on businesses is what the Council needs to be working on,” he said. “We’re not nearly as business friendly as we need to be. The city needs to address the day-to-day stuff to create the right environment, otherwise this whole visioning exercise will be self-defeating.”
Lane doesn’t think the project should be judged by its short term returns. Operation 6035, he said, is a city-building exercise and a lot of projects are still evolving.
Palenchar echoed this sentiment.
“We’ve been working on the World Championship efforts for a while and it finally just came to fruition last month,” he said. “These things take time, you can’t just flip a switch and expect them to be done overnight.”
And Hardre said he has seen momentum for the project picking up once again.
“We’re here and we’re ready to work,” he said. “This was never meant to be a short-term project.”