Let’s look outside the military for brand

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We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we all try to capitalize on our strengths.

Colorado Springs has plenty of strengths, but I’m not sure we’re capitalizing on the right ones.

City officials and economic development gurus in our town have for years clamored to attract and promote military installations and their subcontractors after realizing that religious organizations, like Focus on the Family, spend their money outside the city.

They claim that 20 percent of the economy depends on defense-related expenditures at the Air Force Academy, Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, NORAD, and Space Command. It sounded like a good old-fashioned military town, but should it be?

Our very own Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber of Defense) doesn’t seem to have an education liaison. Does it have a sports liaison or a hospitality liaison?

The Chamber’s reach is limited.Fewer than 15 percent of the businesses in town, out of more than 10,000 businesses, are Chamber members because their membership fees are too high.

Clue: give out free membership for the first year. After a year, begin charging gradual dues. Then assess your marketing strategy to attract more members and give a voice to a wider clientele and reach more small businesses

According to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and International Trade Administration, small businesses have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years. So, if creating new jobs is our concern, as it should be, why not focus on niche and boutique small businesses, rather than focus on big military contractors?

Besides, what happens once we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan? What happens when budget concessions, as we see them unfold, reduce the defense budget?

Our defense spending as a percentage of our federal budget is disproportionately larger than any other advanced economy in the world. Is defense spending sustainable?

If we plan for the future, let’s look into health, education, and new technologies. Having been a tourist and heath attraction from its very beginning, why doesn’t the city refocus its efforts in this direction?

Perhaps the focal point should be the Convention and Visitor Bureau that claims we had 5.5 million visitors in 2010 with an economic impact of $1.35 billion.

Now this is a large number. I tried to compare this to local defense spending but websites weren’t helpful nor were city officials (including the Mayor’s office).

Instead of the Chamber of Defense leading the economic charge, it will be left to the newly appointed CEO and President of the Bureau, Doug Price to create new jobs.

According to him, there are more than 50 local attractions with more than half have free admission.

There are more than 13,000 employees in the hospitality industry, as compared to about 15,000 in Fort Carson. So, if we add hospitality, high-tech (unrelated to defense), hospital, university, and athletic employees (including physical therapists and personal trainers), I bet the number overshadows that of the defense industry. And if our share of the state’s tourism industry is only 10 percent — being the second largest city in the state — we have room to grow!

So, what’s the issue that keeps a military focus on the CS community? Is it our retired military personnel (who don’t like taxes because their kids are no longer of school age)?

If it’s nostalgia, why not go back to attracting tourists and patients of tuberculosis? Forget tuberculosis patients, and instead focus on athletes who appreciate altitude training. Though no ski resort, we are still closer than any other front-range city to the Rockies. The Hill Climb reminds us of Pikes Peak, just as all the other athletes coming to train at the USOC remind us of how special we are. Maybe we should start believing in ourselves again

So-called liberal states like Massachusetts, New York, and California have many more military and air bases than we do. Their economies rely on defense contractors even more than we do; but this is not what they are known for. This is not how they brand themselves. With new city leaders, let’s hope that after attracting defense contractors and religious organizations, they may pay attention to health, wellness, and tourism.

The city wisely chose to start branding itself “Proud Home of the U. S. Olympic Committee” and not the “Proud Home of Military Bases.” Pikes Peak isn’t moving away; neither is it dependent on the largess of Washington.

Let us make the most of it!

Raphael Sassower if professor of philosophy at UCCS and was formerly involved in the hospitality business in town. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com