Zwirlein plans forum as search goes on

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tom_zwirleinIn Colorado Springs business circles, Tom Zwirlein needs no introduction.

He is a UCCS finance professor as well as co-creator and director of the university’s annual Southern Colorado Economic Forum, which attracts around 600 business and community leaders each year. Billed as the regional economic “State of the Union,” the forum combines the analysis of national and local experts on what’s happened to the economy in the past year and, more importantly, where it appears to be heading in the year to come.

The forum is in its 17th year and has been steadily growing, so much that, in fact, its duties now warrant the leadership of a full-time director.

A national search for such a director, which actually started last year, is ongoing, after which Zwirlein and assistant director Fred Crowley will step down.

Zwirlein took some time this week to talk about this year’s forum and the status of the director search.


We expected to see a new Forum director in place this year; what happened and where is the search process now?

We conducted a search for a Forum director this past spring. The search identified a number of qualified candidates. We conducted interviews with three candidates and invited one person for a campus visit and interview. The person we identified was very qualified and enthusiastic about taking on the role as full-time director.

There was a catch because her husband needed to find employment in Colorado Springs or Denver. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find the type of position he sought and in the end she had to decline the position. We have reposted the position and the search committee hopes to identify another qualified candidate by the end of this year or early next year.

I should add the position will be full-time unlike the half-time positions Fred Crowley and I each hold with the Forum. Currently both of us spread our time between the Forum and our teaching and other responsibilities in the College of Business. The new director will be able to devote more effort to the Forum, which our business partners and I believe will enhance the visibility and activity of the Forum in the community.


What are the Forum’s origins and what prompted its creation?

We are approaching our 17th annual Southern Colorado Economic Forum later in September. The Forum was started after several businessmen attended a similar forum in Denver held by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. Ron Chernak attended one of these forums and approached the College of Business dean at UCCS to see whether a similar forum could be developed for southern Colorado. The Forum was created when a colleague of mine at the college and I responded to a call to conduct the initial research on the regional economy. Our first Forum was held at The Broadmoor on Sept. 10, 1997, and we have been building community support and a following ever since. This year we have 42 community business partners, making us a great public-private partnership between the community and the university.


What Forum accomplishments are you most proud of and what do you hope for the future?

I am most proud of the fact that the Forum has become part of the fabric of the business community. I believe it is important for business schools to be involved in the community and from the start the Forum gave us that opportunity.

I never expected our event would grow to the point where we attract 600 business leaders each year. I have to give credit to my colleague, Fred Crowley, for helping to grow and shape the Forum. Since we brought him on as senior economist more than 10 years ago, he has been very active in the community and in the media. He does a lot to raise our profile. I am also proud of the fact that so many of our business partners have supported us for so long. That tells me we are doing something right.


What can people expect to see from the Forum this year? Any new things on tap?

Jim Paulsen from Wells Capital Management returns this year to offer his insights on the global and national issues currently affecting the economy. I am sure he will inform and entertain as he always does. We are fortunate to have him speak at our event and thank Wells Fargo for their continued support. Fred Crowley and I will cover the regional economy. The economy is slowly improving but many challenges remain. The struggle to create primary jobs is on a lot of people’s minds. We will be talking about a number of challenges and more at the Forum this year.

The business symposium panelists will discuss some of the reasons their businesses made the decision to locate in our region. They will also be discussing a number of important issues affecting their business operations in the region.

Our public officials on the panel will be responding to these questions and issues to offer insights on how local government and business can work together to resolve these issues. John Hazlehurst (of the Business Journal) will moderate the panel and I am sure he will be engaging and entertaining. I am looking forward to the discussion.


17th Southern Colorado Economic Forum

7–11:30 a.m.

Thursday, Sept. 26

Antlers Hilton Hotel

Details and registration at: