Forum: Springs needs to ‘grow up’ economically

Colorado Springs as an economic hub is like an awkward-aged adolescent who is not quite a teen-ager and is no longer an adolescent – a “tweener,”  said a national expert who studies why businesses relocate to certain cities or regions.

The Springs has a favorable reputation in the national business world with its decent distribution and solid workforce, said Dennis Donovan, owner of Wadley-Donovan-Gutshaw Consulting based in New Jersey. But, the city hasn’t focused on developing clusters around specific job sectors. It’s not as cheap to live in Colorado Springs as it once was and there are not enough people trained in the trades, like welding and machinery, which would attract manufacturers to the area.

It’s that in-between stage that has made the city and region difficult to market, he said. Growing out of that awkward stage requires building up clusters around specific job sectors, like telecommunications or manufacturing.

Donovan was part of a panel discussion Oct. 14 at the 15th Annual University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Southern Colorado Economic Forum. The forum brought together economists with wildly varying opinions on whether the economy is headed toward a double-dip recession or whether it is holding steady in recovery, following similar recovery patterns of recessions past.

But, at the heart of the numbers was the question of what Colorado Springs and El Paso County will do to grow up.

Donovan, who studies why companies select certain cities or regions to locate, said the way for Colorado Springs to compete against other cities is to work with its neighbors and devise a regional economic development plan, starting with a brand. The Front Range needs to sell its assets in a unified voice.

“It’s like a showroom, you get more people interested in looking at the Front Range when they see a lot of options,” he said

At the very least, Colorado Springs needs to partner with Pueblo in its effort to attract new companies, he said.

El Paso County and four other neighboring counties are working on it, said Dave Csintyan, president and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Southern Colorado Business Partnership, which started two years ago as a way to work on economic development issues on a regional level. The Southern Colorado Business Partnership is working with the Pueblo manufacturing community including Pueblo Community College, in workforce training for area manufacturers.

The curtain between Colorado Springs and Pueblo has been pulled down and tucked away, Csintyan said.

“We have to play like we never have before,” he said.

Other areas Colorado Springs and El Paso County need to consider are growing venture capital to jump start entrepreneurialism, repealing a personal business property tax and providing an incentive package to companies that relocate.

Colorado Springs, Donovan said, could be great when it grows up.