For nearly an hour over breakfast earlier this week, Joe Raso talked to 200 or so business leaders about the evolving local economic landscape from his perspective as the new president and CEO for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC.
Throughout the room, movers and shakers from the business community listened intently to Raso’s message of pursuing aggressive change. Some grimaced at some of his bluntness, such as: “If we can’t staff a superpower economy, we won’t be able to afford the military or the commercial and social programs.” He threw out another ominous assessment: “We are in a demographic civil and global war for talent, and we are losing at this time.”
Obviously, most of Raso’s audience already knew that. We’ve also seen a steady deterioration in manufacturing during the past dozen years, and the EDC’s inability to reverse that trend had much to do with the organization’s ongoing reconstruction project.
We’ve seen the Chamber/EDC merger, with both groups’ top leaders departing — Mike Kazmierski from the EDC, Dave Csintyan from the Chamber. We’ve seen the process that brought the 43-year-old Raso here from Iowa, where he had spent his career in economic development.
Raso clearly brings new energy, though in all honesty, many of his themes come across like re-polished versions of previous EDC regimes. It’s evident that he will work hard on workforce development, which means utilizing the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to the max. It’s also clear that he’ll emphasize the idea of making our city a more “hip” place with “mojo” that appeals to the 21-35 age group.
But we came away with two sobering thoughts from Raso’s introductory speech.
First, as Raso admits, the city and his operation cannot ignore the looming threat of sequestration — in laymen’s terms, severe federal budget cuts that would impact the military and its defense contractors. Raso describes how the Chamber/EDC is working hard on the state’s congressional delegation, but the reality is that sequestration is a national issue, far bigger than just Colorado. We can hope it won’t happen, and we can hope that if it does, our military presence won’t be hugely affected, but until we know that outcome, it’ll be difficult for Raso and the Chamber/EDC to shape their long-range plans.
Second, Raso’s presentation and his obvious energy are clearly focused on his EDC role, which makes us wonder about the Chamber side. He says another name change is coming, and we can only surmise that the iconic “Chamber” title might vanish entirely after more than 100 years on the local scene. He also promises more changes in “leadership,” which sounds like many people leaving. That’s not necessarily bad, unless we somehow lose the Chamber identity and stability that have unified the Colorado Springs business scene for generations.
Raso deserves the chance to streamline the Chamber/EDC and begin developing, then implementing, a new vision. Obviously, it’s not a short-term project, and positive results might take a while. But we’re all in this together, wanting bold new directions for Colorado Springs and sharing the hope that Joe Raso will succeed.