Blueprint pulls state together

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But Springs isn’t active part of regional work on unified business-seeking effort

The goals for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the state’s new Colorado Blueprint are pretty much the same for creating business growth in the Pikes Peak region — but the state is working without the full support and cooperation of the city of Colorado Springs.

Colorado Blueprint started 18 months ago with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “bottom-up plan,” asking local leaders in each of 14 regions to come up with an economic development picture for the entire state. That part is now finished, say officials with the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. But now they need local buy-in to make the plans yield results.

Colorado Springs participated in the first round of the plans with the county, but keeps most of its economic development efforts focused within the city limits.

“The city utilizes a comprehensive approach to achieving economic vitality,” said Bob Cope, principal analyst for economic vitality for Colorado Springs, in an email. “In certain situations, where there are projects, prospects or issues with regional implications, then a regional approach is appropriate. On a day-to-day basis, the majority of the issues and opportunities we face are local in nature and require a local strategy.”

Mayor Steve Bach is acting as the city’s economic vitality chief, a post he created for now-retired Steve Cox, former city manager and Springs fire chief. The mayor is working to create a business-friendly environment by cutting through the red tape, creating response teams for business complaints and offering tax breaks for businesses that make significant capital investments in the Springs, Cope said.

The Colorado Blueprint project, operated by the state’s economic development office, wants help from all quarters — and the cities of Fountain, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs, Victor, the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, El Paso County and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center are all stakeholders in the process. Colorado Springs, however, is not.

Cope says the city only participated in developing the El Paso County summary early in the process. No city representative was at the regional meeting last week, where the state’s office unveiled the Region 4 outlook and outlined the steps ahead.

No surprises

And maybe that was because there were no real surprises for people involved in economic development and job creation in the region, which includes El Paso, Teller and Park counties. Colorado Springs has a strong defense community, wants to become the hub for cyber security companies and is working to become a leader in clean-tech industries.

But that doesn’t lessen the blueprint’s value, said John Wilson, vice president of business development for the Business Alliance. It gives the alliance a chance to push its agenda to the state level and create relationships that could lead to business opportunities.

“People might not know what we have here,” Wilson said. “That’s what’s valuable — the networking. Now when the state gets a call about a sector, they’ll know Colorado Springs already has that sector and suggest they take a look here. It gives us a chance to let people at the state level know what’s here, and what we’re working on here.”

The Colorado Blueprint highlights industry clusters in each of the 14 regions. The goal is to recruit, grow and retain businesses by focusing on access to capital and educating the workforce needed for 21st century demands. Through the blueprint, the state is encouraging economic developers to work together to create a single set of goals for the entire state.

The Business Alliance is focused on many of the same industries the state highlights in its report — and plans to pursue an approach that reaches throughout the Front Range, Wilson said.

“We know defense is a major part of our economy,” he said. “And the state lists health and wellness next. We have a health care sector, but we also have a sports medicine team. We’re a little more specific. They say technology, and we focus on manufacturing.”

Weaknesses in state plan

That’s where the state’s arbitrary linking of El Paso and Park counties makes little sense, he said. The Business Alliance already is partnering with Pueblo — the only county left by itself in the state’s plan — to develop manufacturing as a southern Colorado growth industry.

“We think it would make more sense to go south,” Wilson said. “We have very little in common economically with Park County. There’s tourism, but our tourism is different from theirs — they’re all about the ski slopes. We don’t have that.”

State officials, for their part, say the lines aren’t drawn to keep regions from cooperating with other parts of the state. Instead, they merely are a useful demographic tool.

“The state has 19 different ways of setting up regions,” said Ken Lund, executive director of the OEDIT. “We had to pick one, so we did — we used the Department of Labor’s classification.”

Lund has been the driving force behind the bottom-up plan and the Colorado Blueprint since he was hired at the department of economic development 18 months ago. He reorganized the staff in order to focus on statewide economic development needs.

“In the past, maybe there’s been some criticism we haven’t focused on the entire state,” he said. “This is an effort to do that.”

Once the regions are organized, strengths highlighted and goals set — what’s next? The state is developing an online tool for companies that want to relocate to Colorado — helping them find commercial real estate locations and industry clusters. Known as Colorado Insite, the mapping feature compiles information throughout the state that isn’t currently available on a single site.

“This tool is crucial to keeping Colorado on the cutting edge of the global economy, providing a virtual map of the unique business assets we offer in the state,” Lund said. “This will allow companies in Colorado, as well as outside of Colorado, to make wise and informed business decisions based on available data.”

Lund’s staff is working on business plans for each of the 14 sectors identified as state industrial strengths: aerospace, technology and health care, for example.

But Wilson is skeptical that any concrete action plan will result from the state’s efforts. Instead, he views the process as a chance to push the Business Alliance’s carefully crafted goals to the state.

“It’s an important process,” he said. “If the office is going to represent the whole state — they have to know what’s there.”

State officials are hoping to bring the city to the table. Without local participation, the Blueprint won’t see results, Lund said.

“If this is going to be more than just paper, we have to move it to the local level,” he said. “And that means support and participation at every level: economic developers, city and county government. We need to coordinate with them. What benefits one part of the region benefits the region as a whole.”

By the numbers:

Largest companies in Region 4 (El Paso, Teller, Park counties)

Coalition for the Upper South Platte, Sturman Industries, AngloGold Ashanti Mine, Casino Consortium, Lockheed Martin, Progressive Insurance, USAA, Atmel Corp., Verizon

Five key industries

  • Defense and homeland security
  • Health and wellness
  • Financial services
  • Technology and information
  • Creative industries

Top five regional assets

  • Quality of life
  • Military installations
  • Educated workforce
  • Regional airport
  • Extensive transportation structure

Five-year goals

  • Have a research institution
  • Leader in cyber security and aerospace
  • Employment at 95 percent
  • Robust technology infrastructure
  • Leader in sustainability and energy and resource efficiency