There was a time when a 7:30 downtown breakfast hosted by the Economic Development Corp. and the Chamber of Commerce would have attracted swarms of media, a score of elected officials, and hundreds of local power brokers.
There would have been bands, jugglers, fire-eaters, dancing bears and appropriately boring speeches … well, at least just the latter.
Alas for the dear, dead days beyond recall.
A recent Tuesday breakfast hosted by the newly merged Chamber/EDC leadership drew a relatively sparse crowd to a hastily provided space in the resplendent new Mining Exchange Hotel (the intended venue had suffered water damage). Local politicians, usually eager to rub shoulders with the business community, stayed away in droves. Only state Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) showed up, shadowed by his November opponent, Republican Jennifer George.
The event featured the freshly minted CEO of the soon-to-be-renamed-again organization, Joe Raso.
In a speech that could have been made last year, or in 2010, or in 2007, Raso danced around a lot of familiar issues.
Young professionals: they’re going, not coming.
How cool are we: We’re not “one of those cool, hip places that attract talented workers.”
Competition from other cities: “We’re in a demographic civil and global war for talent, and we are losing at this time.”
Vision: We’re creating a new one real soon.
Strategy: We’re going to be strategic — “strategic outreach to existing companies, strategic and focused government affairs, strategic with our events and programming.”
For the moment, those strategies can wait. Job creation by the Chamber/EDC is being preceded by job trimming at the organization. Raso noted coyly that seven staff members had pursued “other opportunities” during the last 14 months and promptly accelerated the option-pursuing process, eliminating four staff members last week.
Is the merged organization simply restructuring — or is it adrift and rudderless?
Former EDC boss Mike Kazmierski and former Chamber CEO Dave Csyintan were respected, committed and competent community leaders. It would be tough to replace them at any time. Were they insufficiently visionary or insufficiently productive? Or were they just defeated by our city’s mulish, intransigent zeitgeist?
The four staff members who got the boot were all Chamber staffers, which might indicate that Raso doesn’t have much interest in that side of the organization.
He identified the four pillars of the economy: education, the military, tourism and companies that derive more than 70 percent of their revenue from outside Colorado Springs. The message: retain, expand strengthen — and let’s have twice as many young professionals in the room for the next breakfast.
That’s fine, but he ignored the elephants in the room.
Elephant No. 1: Sequestration or no sequestration, some substantial portion of our military presence will disappear in the next few years. We’d do well to remove our heads from the sand and plan for the inevitable.
Elephant No. 2: We’re not cool — and we never will be. Here are some cool cities: Denver, Boulder, Austin, Albuquerque, Omaha, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Manitou Springs. What do they have in common? Democrats run them. Never going to happen here. We’re firmly in the grip of no-fun Republicans, drearily serious folks who are already old at 30.
Elephant No. 3: We’re hoarders, a whole city of crazy people who can’t bring themselves to throw anything out. Get rid of the Drake downtown power plant? Forget it! We love it! It’s so charmingly retro! We bring in coal by the carload in our very own train, make a giant pile, set it on fire, boil a monster pot of water, bleed off the steam and use it to turn a big honkin’ turbine. That’s real electricity, just like Edison used to make it — none of this newfangled natural gas! Wind? Solar? Damn fool nonsense.
We’re like Grandma with the toaster she bought in 1957 — it still works, doesn’t it, sonny? And that nice Mr. Neumann down the street says he can fix it so it won’t burn the toast, and smoke up the place and it’ll be good for another 30 years.
Elephant No. 4: We’re old and getting older. We don’t like paying taxes — that’s for other people, the kind of people who make up Dream Cities, and vision plans with numbers, like 60thirtyfive and 2020. Just leave us alone — we don’t want your stinkin’ vision, and what are you doin’ firing our homies? Why don’t you just go back to India, or Indiana, or Ireland — wherever it is that they grow all that corn.