Within the next 18 months, the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC will have a new name, new office space, a new organizational hierarchy and a new vision.
That’s the word from President and CEO Joe Raso, who spoke to a crowd of about 200 business, military and community leaders this morning, sharing his view of the future and the direction the newly merged Chamber and EDC will take.
Raso said the new group will create a vision for the next 20 years, building on the work of former economic development plans such as the 6035 project and Dream City 2020.
“With a vision, then you can plan,” he said. “And you can work to put that plan in place.”
Raso, who moved here two months ago from Iowa, where he was president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Development Group, said he has been focused on meeting with business and community leaders during his time here.
“I’ve had about 200 meetings in the first two months, just to hear what you are saying,” he said. “And what we’ve heard is that you’re glad there’s a merged organization, but you don’t want the groups doing the same things, just under the same roof. You want a merged plan as well.”
Raso said the community needed to grow its economic “bucket,” the amount of people and wealth it can sustain. He said this is done by not only building businesses already here, but also by attracting businesses that will make most of their money from outside the region. He said the group will focus on job creation and workforce development, as well as recruiting new businesses.
The chamber and EDC also will be more involved in government affairs.
“And I’ll tell the state and local business leaders that we’re in the business of government affairs, because we’re in the business-development business,” he said. “(State Rep.) Pete Lee might have no trouble saying no to me, but he’ll have a harder time saying no to an entire business community.”
He’ll also be working to develop statewide relationships with Denver and Pueblo, he said.
“Colorado Springs isn’t really an island, but I can tell you, as a newcomer, you’re perceived that way,” he said. “You might not agree with it, but that’s the way you’re viewed. We have to reach out to the north, we have to reach out south.”
The entire Front Range working in concert will bring more economic development opportunities, he said.
Another big issue to work on: workforce development. Raso said the city wasn’t known as a place with “mojo,” or as a cool, hip city that attracts professionals.
He quoted from “When the Boomers Bail,” by Mark Lautman.
“If you’re community isn’t producing enough qualified new workers … and you are not one of those cool, hip places that attract talented workers, then you will be out of headroom to grow your economy,” he said.