Business Alliance lays out positive plans

0002So, you might be wondering, what has the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance done for us lately?

From one statistic, which President and CEO Joe Raso smartly chose to lead off his RBA member investor briefing Tuesday, that answer might not be so positive.

Raso informed the audience of business leaders that on Dec. 13, 2000, more than 13 years ago, the total number of people working in the Colorado Springs market was calculated at 255,300.

Then he asked the crowd to look at a PowerPoint slide showing the number employed as of December 2013.

No kidding: 255,300. (Remarkably, a quick search found that same number once again — 255,300 — for July 2006.)

Actually, given the thousands of manufacturing jobs that vanished from the local landscape during that time, one might conclude that being the same today as in 2000 could have been far worse. Of course, in the world of economic development, yesterday’s downturns and recessions quickly lose their relevance.

So with that as the prelude, Raso spent more than an hour describing what the Business Alliance has done over the past year, how its priorities have evolved, and what specific goals the organization has set for the next five years.

First, the 2013 bullet points: Nine new companies totaling 934 primary jobs, serious contacts with 35 companies or site selectors about possibly locating here, success in helping secure $30 million in federal flood mitigation funding, and another victory in removing the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site from being an annual political football in Congress.

That’s where Raso began making a point that he would reiterate.

“As you can see, elephant hunting is not our focus as much anymore,” Raso said, referring to many cities obsessing over big-time companies with many hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Instead, he emphasized, the rising priority now is developing a strong entrepreneurial community and cultivating young professionals — ingredients that many site selectors want to see.

Adding nearly 1,000 primary jobs does make a noticeable difference, as Raso shared with a projected three-year impact totaling $75.1 million in added local expenditures. That breaks down to an additional $29 million for housing, $7.6 million for car purchases, $7.4 million for groceries and $6.8 million in utilities, with the list continuing beyond that.

And with the improving economy, the Business Alliance still is working on more companies — even perhaps a few elephants — that might put operations here, adding eight new prospects with 800 potential jobs to that “maybe” list in January. Raso said that now means a total of 25 “active projects” that could provide 1,867 jobs and, perhaps even more importantly, more than $600 million in possible capital investment.

That all sounds encouraging — but the RBA spends even more energy on supporting and helping existing local industry work through ongoing issues, from airline service and workforce development to Affordable Care Act issues and improving infrastructure.

In fact, Raso insists that “70 percent of our growth locally comes from existing companies of all sizes,” and improving the local workforce tops his vital issues.

“If we can solve that, we’ll be in good shape for decades to come. That’s the biggie,” he said. “Time after time, when we’re not chosen by companies looking at us, that’s the main reason.”

Some might wonder why, since this market has between 4,000 and 5,000 open jobs and an estimated 21,000 unemployed. The problem, Raso says, is a “skills mismatch” with a shortage in areas such as engineers and software developers (thus the need for more YPs). So the Business Alliance plans to work more and more helping UCCS, Pikes Peak Community College and others such as Colorado Tech in developing programs that educate people to fill those open positions.

Another area that now has a more prominent place on the RBA’s radar screen is the sports economy, with research now generating impressive local data: 5,700 direct jobs, 1,900 more indirect jobs for a total of $310 million, or about $41,000 per capita. As if that weren’t enough, a whopping 38 percent of all local companies say they have some impact from the sports industry. Also, Raso said, 67 percent of the local sports entities have nine or fewer employees, “so we’re talking about a lot of small businesses.”

What about the goals? They’re ambitious — announced primary jobs averaging more than 2,000 a year, total job growth of 6,000 a year across the market, nine new recruited companies a year locating here, and 13 existing local companies a year assisted with expansion.

In other words, as Raso made sure to say, he doesn’t want to be using that 255,300 number in the present tense again. He’s hoping to see “260, 265, even 275,000” in years to come.

That might sound like a lot. But the Business Alliance appears to have the road map now to make it happen.

3 Responses to Business Alliance lays out positive plans

  1. Years ago, back in the 50’s, when this was a quaint, fiscally conservative and possibly even a mildly prudish little berg – – there were things we just did not talk about.

    Money. Taxes. Certainly not the “T” word, particularly if you were wanting to run for elected office. And sex. That was almost as off limits as taxes.

    Things have improved considerably. To the point we can now talk about sex. Money and Taxes, not so much. Real squeamish on those two !

    But Mr. Raso brings up some interesting points. It seems we need jobs. Costs big bucks to create jobs whether you are creating them from small local business startups or trying to bring in large employers from out of state.

    The “roadmap” in the last line of this article mentioned by Mr. Routon: roadmaps are effective and more so when you have money enough to put some gas in the car.

    Are we funding economic development at the level it needs to be funded? To be able to afford to finance the cost of developing small local start-up companies – and pay for professionals to be on the coasts drumming up business – – and also pay for all the excellent work the RBA does with their Military Affairs Division – representing us in DC and in Denver?

    Maybe not. The question begging to be asked, perhaps, is if we funded econ dev more fully, would that not put more dollars in the pockets of all of us? More for us to spend and for the county and city revenue streams?

    Mr. Raso stated: “Time after time, when we’re not chosen by companies looking at us”

    Why are we being turned down by major firms who come looking? A brutal, realistic look at why companies selected another city is in order. Like “Business Friendly”. That word is coming more and more into local conversations. What does it mean?

    Are we “business friendly” and can we help the RBA to develop more jobs if we remove barriers if there are things we are known for that label us as Not Business Friendly?

    Things that are barriers we talk about in private but never admit in public?

    What does “Business Friendly” mean to you? That is the subject of one of our recent surveys: examining those things that are sending jobs to where Joe came from !

    Your responses would be very much appreciated in our growing program of grass roots opinion gathering. Thank you.

    Richard D. Wehner
    March 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm

  2. I think it would be good to be very up front with what you goal is, Mr. Wehner. And it would be good to examine the assumptions behind it. Colorado Springs had phenomenal growth of population and decent job growth in the 1990s. Did that solve all our problems? Did we all get rich? Did we get to balance city and county budgets and slash taxes and utility rates?

    No. That is because we are so convinced that growth is profitable, we’ve already underpriced it. Every “young professional” you convince to move here or stay here, and every company you convince to move here, start here, or stay here, could perhaps be a net positive for the community – but not if the companies are given tax breaks and incentives, not if the people who move here get deeply discounted utility tap fees, and not if the general citizenry don’t pay enough taxes to cover the cost of serving them. Adding more losses to the books isn’t rosy. We can’t make up for a per-unit loss by increasing volume. Growth here is uneconomic.

    Personally, I don’t see a need to find a way to make it economic. I’d move to Denver if I wanted to live in a big city, and I understand that perpetual growth makes very little sense in the water-constrained West, and is physically impossible anyway.

    However, if you think this is still 1950 and growth is your Holy Grail, then you’d best stop discounting the costs so much and then claiming we must need to grow more or grow differently when you find no profit on the bottom line. “Investing” in 1950s-style, growth-oriented economic development is a money-loser. Lost money in the 1990s on it, and will lose even more on it in the 2010s if we choose that investment philosophy.

    Dave Gardner
    March 9, 2014 at 7:56 am

  3. These guys a sleeping at the wheel. Seems to be a trend with this town. Why try to compete with Boulder?

    The smart people are already there, not in CS. CS always thinks it can compete and the numbers reveal it can’t.

    Between Ft Collins and Boulder, Colorado has it’s innovation economy. Why can’t CS partner with them? Probably because they know how foolish CS is and has been.

    Thank God We Left
    March 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm