E.D. Chief Romero wrapping up state’s ‘bottom up’ plan

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Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “bottom-up” economic plan isn’t rocket science, but local economic development officials are pinning their hopes on the plan’s ability to revive Colorado’s faltering economy.

Dwayne Romero, newly appointed executive director of the state’s Office of Economic and Development and International Trade has spent his first months on the job traveling more than 3,000 miles to all 64 Colorado counties learning about economic development needs that will be used to create a single statewide plan.

“There will be no rocket science in our state set of initiatives — it will be what we can do in a short period of time, two years,” he said.

Romero will be in Colorado Springs May 18 to speak at the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.’s annual awards luncheon.

“We certainly have been involved in the bottom-up plan to get good feedback to understand what the state’s needs are,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the EDC. “It’s a good opportunity to have all business organizations work together to understand what the state needs.”

State needs are driven by local needs, Romero said. That’s why the governor spent four months developing the plan that will be unveiled Monday, May 15.

“Having a wiring diagram as to how it is that we wish to grow out of a recession — with county statements, regional statements and state level of statements,” he said. “(that) will aid us in how we communicate on a habitual basis.”

El Paso County developed its own plan and sent it to the state, according to a letter to Hickenlooper from Sallie Clark, vice chairwoman of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners. The overall theme in the county, she said, was the need for transportation improvements, both in the highway and at the Colorado Springs Airport.

“As you know, this is critical to our economic vitality and assistance from the Colorado Department of Transportation is needed,” she said. “The lack of funding for higher education was also an overriding concern, along with TABOR.”

Increasing tourism and encouraging defense-related industries topped the list of goals El Paso County sent to the state. Sports and wellness groups were third and information technologies also made the list. The county wants to work to expand resources to foster entrepreneurship and small business development.

The county also told the state about the importance of the military community to its economic health. It asked for a military liaison in the governor’s cabinet and recognition by the legislature of the positive impact of the military to the entire state.

Each of the goals came with a set of strategies, actions and outcomes. .

However, there’s no guarantee that El Paso County goals will make it in the plan.

“The governor has promised to incorporate as many of these ideas into the state’s overall economic plan,” Romero said. “Each county has its own needs and hardships, but this type of comprehensive approach holds promise.”

The state held its final working sessions earlier this month. Despite the over-arching state plan, Romero said economic development must truly start from the bottom-up.

“What we are trying to do is shape and organize our role to help aid your local economic recovery,” Romero said. “All this work effort, ultimately, is owned at the local level. It is owned by leadership at these regional and small community levels.”

The state doesn’t want to interfere with local plans — it only wants to serve as a resource.

“I am sure of this,” he said. “You don’t want state leadership to come in and try to own your solution. However, you damn well want state leadership to understand your challenge, to be empathetic to your concerns and to be very urgent in how we apply the resources that we can.”

The draft report of the statewide plan is due May 15, followed by a 10-day public comment period. On June 14, there will be a public webinar and the final blueprint is due June 30. Romero also said the state would return to each region within six months to work on the initiatives.

Then, the real work begins.

“This network of county statements and regional initiatives and statewide initiatives will only be as strong as what we are willing to do,” Romero said.