Routon: Rising Stars today have reason to stay

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The two young professionals came from different backgrounds, Scott growing up here and graduating from Colorado College, and William coming from a small town in the South and finishing his degree at a young, growing urban university not unlike UCCS.

They met in 1977, hired by the same employer to tackle a daunting challenge. Their company was in a highly competitive and very visible environment, trying to build credibility and adapt to the changing times with a talented, young, hungry staff, many of whom had moved here from somewhere else.

Of course, that was nearly four decades ago, and Colorado Springs was a different place then. Growing and vibrant, but not so divisive, with only about half as many people as the estimated 670,000 or so living in the area now.

Those days, if you were a young professional, you didn’t know many others in your age bracket except your co-workers. For Scott and William, as well as others in their company, the concept of “networking” meant deciding whether to meet after work at Jinx’s Place or the New Tokyo downtown, the Scoreboard Lounge on East Bijou or Murphy’s Tavern up on North Nevada.

As for live music, the best choices then were at the Hungry Farmer on Garden of the Gods Road or when Flash Cadillac would play in town, later as Sammy and the Sarcastics.

Other than that, many young professionals in those days took part in softball leagues or perhaps occasional rounds of golf at Patty Jewett or Valley Hi. But not much socializing otherwise.

These young adults in their 20s and 30s already have begun making their imprint on Colorado Springs.

Many in the tight-knit group that included Scott and William eventually scattered to jobs across the country, from New York and Chicago to the West Coast. But those two stayed, preferring to build their careers here, and they worked together two decades. One moved away for a while but soon returned, while the other eventually went to Pueblo, but they remain friends today.

This week I thought about Scott and William leading up to the Business Journal’s annual Rising Stars event Thursday at the Hotel Elegante. The 27 honorees this year come from all kinds of backgrounds and places. Some grew up in the area, but others simply landed here by chance, whether because of the military, a job opportunity or just wanting to live in Colorado.

Read through the individual profiles in the special glossy publication inserted into this issue, and you can’t help but be impressed at the variety of credentials and ambitions. These young adults in their 20s and 30s already have begun making their imprint on Colorado Springs, whether as entrepreneurs, in the financial world, the Olympic sports scene, higher education, the nonprofit environment or organizing young professionals.

Yes, we do hear often of Colorado Springs losing our young stars, whether to Denver or elsewhere. But when you see awardees as promising as this group — or, to be honest, the Rising Stars every year — you have to realize that we’re doing a lot more today to keep those young professionals here.

Our arts and entertainment scene has come a long way in the past generation, our other choices range from excellent live theater to World Arena concerts and Sky Sox baseball, and you’ll see the 21-44 age demographic making a far bigger impact on area nonprofits. Also, many more obviously want to stay and pursue their goals in the Pikes Peak region.

What about Scott and William? Their most noteworthy achievement was developing the Gazette’s sports section into one of the best anywhere, from the 1970s through the ’90s, earning state and national recognition. Scott Smith moved on to Pueblo, where he’s still making a difference as lifestyle editor at the Pueblo Chieftain. William, well, that would be me (Ralph is my middle name), still trying to help make this a better place through journalism.

Our friendship continues, strengthened by the two of us being a dynamite partnership each year in fantasy football, and whenever we get together (not often enough), we talk about what we were able to accomplish, back when Colorado Springs really didn’t value its young adults. I wonder how much difference it could have made if we’d had the same level of networking then with others our age in the community.

At least now, it’s encouraging to see Rising Stars bringing so much talent to the table, and already feeling ownership in Colorado Springs because of what they’re achieving.

They have a lot better chance of staying here than the young professionals of decades gone by — as long as we never take them for granted, and let them take the wheel as soon as they’re ready.

Which, for many, is now.