New partnership brings out best in local scene

Early this year, the first informal conversations about a possible collaboration started among the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Colorado Springs Small Business Development Center. Sometime around June, those talks began taking on more substance and focus.

Tuesday, top staff and board members of the three organizations rolled out the product of all those discussions during a luncheon at The Pinery at the Hill. They’re forming a new partnership to work together on combining and cultivating joint programs and specific events, starting in 2014.

What it means is that certain special occasions now will become a group effort, including the long-established Athena International Award luncheon, Evening in Tuscany: Women in Business reception, the Business Expos and Business Connect networking events.

But the idea goes deeper, because the organizations are emphasizing that they want to condense the often-saturated local business calendar into fewer, better, less-overlapping events.

What’s not to like about that? So many groups and entities — yes, including the Business Journal — want to provide events that help businesses and honor people across the community, such as our upcoming annual Women of Influence 2013 on Nov. 7. Nobody’s trying to shoot down those kinds of gatherings.

But the result of this collaboration, especially in providing top-notch speakers and resources that make a difference in business owners’ everyday lives, will be much better for all concerned.

Business Alliance CEO Joe Raso, along with his peers in the group, understandably cautioned against people knee-jerking to super-high expectations, saying, “You have to start somewhere. We’ve been talking about this for some time, and it’s all about the best and highest use of how we serve the business community. It made a lot of sense, and it finally reached the point where our board leaders just said, ‘Go forth and make this work.’ But we don’t want to announce something and have it just be out there.”

Matt Barrett, the BBB’s new top executive, described the situation in another way: “This is the first step in a thousand-mile journey. … There’s an immense amount of opportunity out there.”

Local SBDC executive director Aikta Marcoulier said, “This has been a long time coming, being able to pool resources for better speakers and better events. But this is just the starting place.”

This might sound like good common sense, but it’s much easier said than done. In fact, the new cooperative already is unusual enough that the initial announcement Tuesday lured Kelly Manning, head of the Colorado SBDC Network, to drive down from Denver.

“At the state and national levels, we’ve seen some partnerships,” Manning said admiringly, “but nowhere have we seen a specific agreement such as this, putting a formalized process in place. This is the first time we’ve had anything like that. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

There won’t be a separate name for the union, no centralized website (at least not yet), no additional board of directors. And that’s intentional, because the three member organizations have no desire to lose their own separate identities and missions.

The three member groups have no desire to lose their own separate identities and missions.

For example, as Raso mentioned, neither the BBB nor the SBDC would have an interest in legislative affairs, but the Business Alliance certainly does. The same would apply in other areas where the SBDC and BBB can do their own thing better than anyone else.

In other words, the SBDC’s annual Small Business Week, will continue as it has, with the BBB and RBA involved. And the Business Alliance still plans its State of the City (as well as state and region) talks, the Regional Leaders Trip, Business and Arts Luncheon, group trip to Washington, D.C., and more.

What about groups that aren’t part of this collaboration, such as young professional and entrepreneur associations? They won’t be forgotten, and they’ll fit into different events and programs that appeal more to them.

It’s not only the best move for the RBA, BBB and SBDC, it’s also sure to benefit the entire business community down the line. And they’re doing it without creating yet another group name and acronym for the public to remember.

“Of course, now we have to do it,” Raso said, and he’s obviously right. But the amount of agreement those three groups already have achieved at the leadership level deserves a wide round of applause.

One more detail sounds so simple yet so smart: Each event will start with participants being told the predetermined intent and goals. Afterward, those who took part will have the chance to give feedback on whether those goals were met, for future planning purposes.

One last time, what’s not to like?