Mayoral candidates Richard Skorman and Steve Bach have a few things in common. Both are businessmen, both see job creation as the main issue facing the city and both believe the city government could be more efficient.
It’s their approaches to those issues that differs.
Bach believes government should get out of the way of business. He sees less government, less regulation and fewer fees as the best way to grow business in Colorado Springs.
Skorman believes government should be more active. He believes it should take a lead role in urban redevelopment and build the city into a place that attracts business.
The two candidates will square off on those business issues, and many others during their debate 6 p.m. Monday, May 2 at the Pikes Peak Center for a final debate. It will be their final debate before the May 17 election.
Skorman, who owns five businesses in downtown Colorado Springs, hopes to encourage and grow locally owned companies like his own. He said the biggest issue is job creation – and as mayor, he would work to change the city’s image and its overall business mindset.
“I think we’ve allowed the city to grow in a way that hasn’t been good for sustainability, hasn’t been good for tourism,” he said. “In the past, there’s been a philosophy in the community that we should do things cheaply for short-term gain, not long-term benefits.”
The environment and sustainable business practices have long been pet projects of Skorman’s, and he said he’ll bring those to the mayor’s office.
“We need to build in a way that enhances and includes the natural environment,” he said. “We need to grow, but we need to grow differently.”
The first step is re-developing blighted areas, re-using empty buildings, instead of contributing to sprawl. He intends to use other cities’ growth plans as a blueprint.
“In Oklahoma City they invested in their downtown in a very big way,” he said. “That’s created a huge number of jobs and a vibrancy we could have here. In Providence (Rhode Island) they’re known as the Creative City, because they’ve invested in their arts and culture and created jobs.”
Small businesses need the same kind of help that larger, primary employers receive when moving here, he said. Mostly, the city doesn’t need to keep all its economic development eggs in one basket.
“We have a lot of defense companies, lot of nonprofits,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s bad. We just need a more diverse economy. We really haven’t paid attention to that in the past – but we have to, if we want to move forward in the future.”
When Skorman talks about incentives, he isn’t talking about taxes. He said other cities have created opportunity zones that rejuvinate blighted areas.
“Look at the Great Streets program on South Academy,” he said. “There are public-private partnerships that are revitalizing that area. The marketplace won’t do it by itself – the planning has got to be there first.”
The city needs a better brand, he said, in order to attract the young, bright creative classes.
“We don’t need to stay inside the box,” he said. “We don’t need to present a narrow, intolerant view that shuts the door on entrepreneurs. We need to create a business friendly environment, and we need to do it by opening the doors to everyone.”
Battles over open space and reservoirs and fights over watershed protection of watersheds only harm the city, he said.
“We have a city pedestrians can’t live in,” he said. “Let’s change that. If we keep building the way we’ve been building, we are shutting the door on younger, hipper, funkier people. We need to build a city where it’s easy to recreate, where we cherish the outdoors. Or we’re going to create a city that struggles.”
Skorman said his opponent represents “the old way” of doing business, He used the two major upcoming Colorado Springs sporting events, the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, to illustrate a point
“Both are great events, both will get us national coverage, both will get us on television,” he said. “But one is geared toward an older crowd, and one is geared toward a younger crowd. The city helped a great deal with the U.S. Open and hardly at all with the bike race. We need to change that.”
Bach, while a businessman who cares about the community, doesn’t know how to create a business friendly community, Skorman said.
“He’s the old guard,” he said. “The kind of candidate that believes you can’t interfere with the way a business wants to use the land. He doesn’t believe in welcoming all people. He believes in shutting the door – the old way of doing things.”
Skorman realizes that he’s been characterized as a “tax-and-spend liberal.”
As far as taxes, he said he doesn’t plan any new taxes, but would support ending a few, such as the business personal property tax.
“These are harsh economic times,” he said. “This is not the time for taxes.”
Bach has been involved in businesses, both big and small, throughout his career. He’s worked for the past 27 years as a commercial real estate broker, and has experience as a homebuilder. He was chief operating officer for the Schuck Corp. and vice president of marketing for multimillion-dollar Springs-based catalogue ordering company, Current, Inc.
He believes it’s his business experience that puts him ahead of his opponent.
He wants to transform city government, making it both more efficient and effective.
“Businesses routinely do a strategic review of their operations,” he said. “Government should do that as well. I will complete a bottom-up review of every city operation to determine if we are efficient as we can be.”
Bach believes it’s time to take an “honest look” at the way the city does business and to streamline its processes as companies look to move or expand in Colorado Springs.
“There are fees and procedures that make it very difficult for businesses,” he said. “We need to look at that. For example, one couple wanted to build a convenience store on land they owned. The city told them that they’d have to pay a $120,000 tap fee. That’s ridiculous. Those fees need to be looked at.”
The process for getting new projects approved is lengthy and cumbersome, he said. Overall, the city just isn’t friendly to business, he said.
“We need to take a look at the way we’re doing things and make sure we’re getting the maximum value out of every tax dollar,” he said. “We need to unleash the employees’ ingenuity, look at outsourcing some things.”
Creating new jobs is also on the list of Bach’s action goals as mayor. With slightly more than 30,000 people in the city out of work, he believes stable, good-paying jobs are a priority.
“Foremost, we need to start strengthening the business climate,’ he said. “We have over-reaching regulations; we have too many fees, too many people keeping business from growing.”
That’s where Bach’s experience will come into full force, he said. As a commercial real estate developer, he said he has “thousands of contacts” in businesses around the nation.
“I will open up those contacts, I will fly around the country and attract businesses here,” he said. “As a commercial real estate developer, I have helped hundreds of corporations here, and I get feedback about the business climate. I can use that as mayor.”
As mayor, Bach said he will personally call on the CEOs and business managers at each company, finding out ways the city can help keep them happy – and keep them here.
“It might be something small, like they need the potholes at the entrance to their parking lot fixed, or a street light to help people leave,” he said. “It might not be huge, but it might affect the way they feel about staying here.”
As one of the founders of the Economic Development Corp., Bach said he had a record of “volunteer leadership.”
“I know how to do this,” he said. “I know how to create business, to bring them here. I’ve done it all my life.”
His opponent, he said, is just another politician.
“I am not a politician,” he said. “And I think that’s a benefit. I’m not doing this for some higher office; I’m doing it because I love this city. It’s time for a new beginning.”
Skorman was on the city council for eight years, and failed to create partnerships in that time.
“So many votes were 8 to 1,” he said. “I have a track record over decades to get people to park egos at the door,” he said. “With this new form of government, we’re going to need someone with a track record of cooperation.”
Skorman, he said, also was on the councils that created many of the problems the city faced today.
“He is a politician,” he said. “He criticizes urban sprawl, but he was on the council that supported a lot of the projects. The city’s financial position comes from there as well. We don’t need more of the failed policies of the past.”