(Editor’s note: Next week, the CSBJ will discuss what the future holds for the Regional Business Alliance.)
The Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. merged to become the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance early this year.
But changes to the organization went deeper than the merger and a name change. According to new CEO Joe Raso, the group has completely changed the way it does its job.
Its mission and focus are now driven by the volunteer board of directors, a 15-member representative group from the business community.
“In my view, the most successful business organizations have a vibrant, passionate volunteer staff and a dedicated, competent staff,” Raso said. “We’re taking that approach instead of having the staff direct the board.”
The change was a mandate that rose out of the merger, said alliance board member Chris Blees, CEO at accounting firm BiggsKofford.
“We didn’t want to keep doing what the chamber’s mission was and what the EDC’s mission was, just under the same roof,” he said. “We wanted to create a new direction; we wanted to focus on business development. And that required some changes.”
Blees said it was pretty typical for a brand-new organization to be more board-directed than staff-directed — but that could change as the Business Alliance matures.
“The chamber and the EDC had been operating for years with the same missions — or portions of the mission,” he said. “Since this is a new mission, it makes sense that the board would direct the staff more.”
The organization’s structure underwent a tectonic shift during 2012. The board of directors oversees councils on defense as well as a government affairs advisory council, a political action council, and finance and governance councils. The board appoints the council members, who are volunteers with expertise in each area, but decisions made by the groups must be approved by the board. Beneath each council are committees made up of volunteers from different industry sectors.
“This is volunteer-driven,” Raso said. “But who better to advise the organization on how to develop industry sectors — and grow those industries — than the people who work in them?”
While most of the work has been behind the scenes, Raso said 2012 marked the end of the transition period.
“We sat down with about 100 different business groups to ask them what they thought and what they needed,” he said. “I think we’re in a very good place.”
Moving ahead means focusing on not only the traditional networking and connections offered by the chamber and recruitment efforts by the former EDC, but also on business development as a whole — including government, public policy, all the things that could retain and grow business, Blees said.
He said in recent years, both former organizations focused on sub-missions, leaving business development behind.
The result of all the behind-the-scenes talks and meetings: a more narrowly tailored focus. The Business Alliance is now only targeting specific industries in specific states for business recruitment — notably California and Illinois — and increasing its efforts to retain and meet needs of businesses already here.
“We’re going to be focusing on local industry, building businesses that are here,” Raso said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t be focused on recruitment, but we will also be focusing more on the local businesses, on startups, micro-businesses as well.”
The biggest change, Blees said, and probably the most noticed one, is the change in staffing.
“We realigned the staff,” he said. “Some people have new jobs, new responsibilities. Some people moved on. But we took two different staffs and changed the perspective by directing them with our own vision, a new mission.”
Raso said he “felt very good” about the organization’s position in the community following the merger.
He said the group had supported two tax bills necessary for economic development — the Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority’s extension of taxes aimed at the region’s roads and bridges, and the sheriff’s tax increase aimed at hiring more officers for El Paso County.
And Blees said he thought the year spent re-inventing the organization was important work.
“I think people thought we’d merge, hire a new CEO in May and then have a new mission and business plan by July,” Blees said. “That’s just not realistic. It took time to sit down and meet with literally hundreds of people about what they needed us to be, and then to develop the mission.
“It only took about six months, but now we’re ready to move forward.”