Let’s decide how to ignite new energy in Springs

Filed under: Opinion,Print,Routon |

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.

4 Responses to Let’s decide how to ignite new energy in Springs

  1. Many of the issues raised by Mr. Routon related to a ‘plan of action and unity’ were raised during the financial ‘crisis’ of 2007 in a forum hosted at the downtown library Carnegie Room – by a number of organizations wherein it was brought forth that a new level of ‘Regionalism – Cooperation, and Coordination’ might be keys to enhancing the local economy. Nothing happened.

    Later in 2009, in the Project 6035 Report, many of the same issues inhibiting local economic development were also examined. Nothing happened.

    To date, the net result is that we still lag behind so many other cities in being able to attract the major national firms needed to create the employment from which come the revenues needed to make this magnificent region stable and prosperous.

    We are beginning our 2014 series of surveys concentrating on those areas of economic development that are not happening: is it our leadership, our population, our culture or do we need to just go back as Mr. Routon suggests and revisit the wisdom and success of Pike Powers?

    If you have time, your thoughts and comments would be appreciated. We have the tools for greatness as a region – how do we get them all in the same toolbox? Our first survey is very brief and relates to your level of confidence in local leaders to move the region forward.

    Richard D. Wehner
    February 11, 2014 at 12:09 pm

  2. Ralph, I’m glad you’re writing about this, but I’m not sure you have it completely sorted out. I think this community is divided over its identity and civic goals because we are divided about how we define success and progress.

    There are people in this town who want to get rich, or become richer. They come back time and again trying to convince the rest of us to subsidize something that will add to their wealth, and we’ve become distrustful of their intentions. I’m sure they honestly believe their schemes are good for the community. They may have been at one time. I’m not at all sure they are today.

    There are other people in this town who do not define success or progress as getting rich or richer. They value quality of life, community, sharing, seeing that needs are met. They’re satisfied with “enough.” They don’t need more of anything, except perhaps education, enlightenment, love, peace and health. Others will sell any one of these things for another dollar. They just will. That’s their measure of success.

    Pam Shockley is a wonderful lady presiding over a great community asset. But I see signs that her metric for success is how big she can grow the campus. Yet Colorado College focuses on quality, isn’t obsessed with growth, and does just fine. Why is a bigger UCCS better? Have you ever stopped and asked yourself? I’ll be not. For the past hundred years we just came to assume that bigger is better. That’s why some in this town measure our success by how fast we grow the city, how fast we grow the tax base, how fast we grow the economy.

    For many of us, those who chose Colorado Springs over Denver or Los Angeles for its more laid back, peaceful quality of life, and those who are aware that endless growth is unsustainable (and particularly foolish in the dry American West), we are looking for quality over quantity. We fail to see the value of a downtown so big you can’t walk it. We don’t think another shopping center is progress. We don’t see the benefit of moving the homeless out of sight to make the walk to a shop or restaurant more pleasant.

    We didn’t mind having plumbing shops and a lumber yard just south of downtown (I think only a developer dreaming of gentrified condos sees that as blight). We’d rather tax ourselves to pay the cost of filling our potholes and plowing our roads than bet any public money, including future tax revenue, on a “tourism” project we didn’t even know we needed. We’d rather tax ourselves and pay the cost of running our city than allow drilling and fracking to poison our kids in return for some tax revenue and jobs for pole-dancers and trailer-park managers.

    I would love to see us pull together, but I think there is a lot that divides us and there are many of us who don’t and won’t subscribe to the 1950s notions of progress that some want to repeat. I don’t know how we resolve that. Maybe we can’t.

    Dave Gardner
    February 11, 2014 at 4:23 pm

  3. “being able to attract the major national firms needed to create the employment from which come the revenues needed to make this magnificent region stable and prosperous,” is one view. Are there any cities who feel they have enough firms? Enough jobs? Enough revenues? Did “attracting” big national firms solve their problems? Or did it just solve some problems while creating new, larger ones?

    Let’s admit that attracting companies attracts new residents to apply for those jobs. It does not just magically employ everyone here who was unemployed or underemployed. For a long time this city was in the growth business. Building roads and houses and running utilities provides jobs. But I think we are leaving the era of growth. We can’t sustain it. And we’ve proven that it is never enough. We always need more. Might as well try heroin.

    At any rate, if those who want more of everything can admit it, then we are one step closer to having the community conversation about how we define success as a city. At least we’ll be starting with some honesty about the goals. I’ll start. I’ll be honest. I don’t think bigger is better. I don’t think we are inferior and need to attract something so we’ll be better. We have all the makings of a magnificent city. We just need to value what we have and improve what we have. Pouring more concrete won’t do that.

    Dave Gardner
    February 11, 2014 at 6:42 pm

  4. Dave

    Just for the sake of argument, and because I can’t find my rolling papers, let’s assume, for a minute, that there can be found a happy medium between endless sprawl and a concrete landscape – - and a well designed level of growth directed toward infill – use of existing areas as south Academy. Balance the need for sustainability and full employment. 7.2% unemployment is not bad unless you are one of the 7.2%

    Colorado Springs appears to have every competitive advantage to draw those firms it wants to have ! One does not have to hustle all the business it can get just for the sake of business. It can be an economic powerhouse for all of Southern Colorado. Revenue expansion to support a high quality of life with a clean environment can happen with planning. We should have the planning ability to have controlled revenue expansion without sprawl. Intelligent Design !

    I think the point of this opinion piece is that the past twenty years worth of people and policies: no real collaboration or cooperation coupled with a growing national reputation for being combative, argumentative and dysfunctional has left the region no choice but to see a bare-bones city budget of around 190 Million by around 2018. A stagnant pond with a lot of dead fish floating to the top. Or moving to Fort Collins.

    For what it might be worth, I agree fully with Mr. Routon that we need to assemble the brightest and most earnest in the community for a think tank to develop a regional strategic plan that can meet your goals and mine. We do not have one because it would take 14 committees to select a location to hold the meeting !

    It may take failure, and a generation to move out failed leaders. But the basic ingredients will still exist to rebuild a strong economy – the question is why wait? What did this piece say?

    “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.”

    Richard D. Wehner
    February 12, 2014 at 10:15 am