These should be the best of times for Colorado Springs. We should be thrilled at the prospect of better times ahead for the city, its economy and people.
Look around you. Think about all the positive developments that have set the table for years ahead.
We have the rising star of the University of Colorado system, with UCCS aggressively expanding and reaching toward new horizons. We have a military presence that appears resilient, meaning that budget cuts and squeezes should not be catastrophic, and most defense contractors should weather the storm.
We have a small-business community trying desperately to take off, with an abundance of innovation and hopefully a fresh infusion of investment and more obtainable financing.
We have a sports industry with the usual array of top-notch events this year including the upcoming U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships (Feb. 26-March 1) and cycling’s USA Pro Challenge returning in August. First, though, we have the U.S. Olympic Committee helping America’s athletes show the world what the best preparation and support can produce at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Stop right there. We are calling ourselves America’s Olympic City. So why aren’t we fixated on the Winter Games? Why isn’t Mayor Steve Bach leading a local contingent to Sochi? Certainly, the USOC could have arranged for access.
Instead, we’ve dealt this past week with Bach vetoing a City Council ordinance regarding whether Council has the right to approve mayoral appointments. Really.
I’m not saying we have to live in Fantasyland. But we’re missing yet another opportunity to show Colorado Springs belongs on a larger stage by wallowing in the mire of childish political skirmishes as another Olympiad begins.
Our problem is simple. This has come up for years in different forums and analyses — even in the Business Journal. But it has to be said again.
We are too polarized.
This city, despite valiant efforts by many caring people, never seems to avoid slipping into another mass of quicksand. People say the right things for a while, but soon the positive energy fades away, usurped by fresh anger, resentment, nastiness and infighting.
We thrive on petty politics. And it’s hurting us. Actually, destroying us.
You’d think, after a stroke of fortune as huge as the Colorado Economic Development Commission approving the use of tax money to help finance City for Champions, that finally would pull everyone together. That’s as close to winning the lottery as we could get.
Instead, our chosen leaders have slid (or leaped) back into the quagmire.
You would’ve thought by now that somebody or group would have summoned all the right people together for a public meeting and challenged everyone to work together. Perhaps an outsider could’ve helped.
We had a chance with someone special but never took full advantage. After the Operation 6035 effort chided our lack of cooperation but inspired plans to move forward in 2010, organizers recruited that person.
Pike Powers had evolved from a high-profile attorney to a much-admired force in revitalizing Austin, Texas. He became a hero for leading a technology-driven economic rebirth there. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Powers speech: “Educate, adapt, innovate, collaborate. The real risk is not acting, not collaborating and assuming that a great economy is not a product of hard work and great risk.” (He’s also eloquent in an online talk at weareaustintech.com/pike-powers/)
In June 2010, Powers visited here as a consultant, pushing strategies that worked in Austin. One theme, as reported by this paper, was that the main goal had to be creating a new atmosphere of working together and building a stronger, united community. Powers insisted that when opposing or conflicting parties could agree on the overarching goal to cooperate in improving the quality of life for everyone in Colorado Springs, then progress could be made.
At a fundraising event hosted by UCCS and Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Powers added that to succeed, we would have to connect at the local, state, national and global levels.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet. We have unity among our small businesses, young professionals and innovative entrepreneurs. Beyond that, however, our elected and civic leaders are splintered, unable to agree on a single goal, much less a plan of action.
Perhaps it’s time for an intervention — all the right people, including adversaries, in one place at one time, with one or two strong personalities bluntly challenging us again about ending our polarization.
Maybe it’s time to bring back Pike Powers, give one microphone to him and another to Pam Shockley-Zalabak, and stand back. No agenda. No holds barred.
Not asking for money. Just imploring everyone to set politics aside, identify common goals — and go from there. Before it’s too late.