2011 could go down as a watershed year in Colorado Springs, predict civic and business leaders who went on an economic development scouting trip to Oklahoma City earlier this month.
Participants returned home fired up and ready for change, as a result of the third annual “Regional Leaders Trip.”
The mission of the jaunt: Learn how another U.S. city went from a no-man’s land to a thriving metropolis and figure out what can be applied here.
Now, a movement to create a new vision for Colorado Springs is afoot.
Fifty representatives from the city and El Paso County, business groups, think tanks and sectors such as health care, real estate, sports, banking, the arts and education met with community leaders and visited strategic sites to learn about Oklahoma City’s economic development success story. (See the list of participants at the end of this article.)
In the last two decades, that city has added 600 employers and built a wealth of downtown attractions, including a man-made canal and river walk, a baseball park, a sports arena, a library and a transit system. A penny sales tax (per $1 spent) paid for much of the revitalization projects, along with some private contributions and existing budgets.
Now, Oklahoma City has one of the strongest economies in the nation and the lowest unemployment rate for a major metropolitan area, 5.2 percent — nearly half the rate in El Paso County.
Key findings from the trip are written on a poster in Dave Csintyan’s office at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, which organized the trip.
First, you gotta have a vision, and Csintyan, the chamber’s president and chief executive, thinks the stars above Colorado Springs are aligning for that to happen.
“The timing is perfect,” he said. “Oklahoma City had a wake-up call in the early 1990s when United Airlines decided not to locate there, even after the city offered them $100 million. The reason was the executives didn’t want to live there.
“We have a wake-up call in Colorado Springs right now — high unemployment.”
Csintyan points to new city leadership as a sign of hope and motivation for change. And it’s one of the steps Oklahoma City officials pinpoint as crucial for job growth: Identify a pressing need, have a visionary leader to guide the way, build a unified front among community leaders, make sure the goal is realistic and deliver what’s promised.
“It’s not so much the brick-and-mortar as it is the attributes that form the ability to achieve that grand vision — the high sense of inclusion and having someone people respect out front,” Csintyan said.
It’s also not so much about how to fund the vision, Csintyan said. Like Colorado Springs, Oklahoma City voters had a history of defeating proposed tax increases. But city officials there figured out how to change their minds by packaging multiple projects under a finite tax.
“Having a vision sets the conditions to go where we want to go, whether it’s a sales tax increase or property tax increase or no increase,” Csintyan said.
Chamber officials plan to hold a de-briefing for trip participants and host a public session in coming weeks.
“There’s a change in community conversation. Cynicism is being tossed away, which is creating an environment for possibilities,” said Stephannie Finley, president of governmental affairs and public policy for the chamber.
Colorado Springs already has what other cities yearn for: an abundance of natural beauty, amiable weather and outdoor activities, she said. What’s missing, Finley said, is the right environment for progress.
“The three communities we’ve studied (Oklahoma City, Charlotte, N.C. and Austin, Texas) were successful because their leadership came together. So how do we get that? It’s got to be a No. 1 priority among our electeds, the appointeds and the business community,” she said.
Comments about the Oklahoma City “Regional Leaders Trip,” from participants
“It’s clear that when a community rallies around something they can get a lot done. The need for jobs drove Oklahoma City’s investment in infrastructure. We could do a better job as a region of getting behind and supporting job attraction and retention.
“I think it’ll be difficult to lay out something here that gets voter support. But once voters understand the need and have it clearly articulated with specific objectives and outcomes, they have, in the past, supported those kinds of things.
“Part of it’s timing, part of it is doing the best we can with what we have first. The city and county already are embarking on a shared resources effort, and that’s refreshing.
“It was good to see how people deal with the same challenges we have. There usually are no new ideas, but there are ideas you take and modify them to fit your community.”
— Mike Kazmierski, president, Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.
“We have a wonderful community, but jobs are key to everyone’s quality of life, and we need more of them. We need to focus our communal energy to retain talent and leverage our natural assets to attract new young professionals.
“It may seem like Oklahoma City has as a lot of money because of the oil industry. But they made a concerted effort to diversity with sports, water features, higher education, health care, to make sure their economy isn’t solely dependent on one source.
“It’s really invaluable to look at best practices — that’s Community Building 101.”
— Amanda Mountain, regional director of Rocky Mountain PBS and general manager of KTSC
“We do a lot of things right. We need to fill in the gaps. Part of it is marketing. Part of it is a regional effort. I’d like to see us dust off old plans from the past to incorporate Fountain Creek into development. I’d like to see us work on marketing our Olympic ties better and move forward with a brand. One thing Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs have in common is that the states are part of both cities’ names, and I think we should capitalize on that. I look forward to the county participating in that branding process that the convention and visitors’ bureau is leading.”
— El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark
List of participants
-- Lisa Abuso, Colorado Technical University
-- Jan Bonham, Express Employment Professionals
-- Ron Butlin, The Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs
-- Mike Cafasso, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center and Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
-- Randy Case, Case International Company
-- Debbie Chandler, Colorado Springs Health Partners
-- Bill Cherrier, Colorado Springs Utilities
-- Commissioner Sallie Clark, El Paso County
-- Steve Cox, City of Colorado Springs
-- Dave Csintyan, Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
-- Dirk Draper, CH2M Hill
-- Susan Edmondson, Bee Vradenburg Foundation
-- Stephannie Finley, Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
-- Toby Gannett, Palisades at Broadmoor Park
-- Jeff Green, El Paso County
-- Chris Jenkins, Nor'wood Development
-- Mike Kazmierski, Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.
-- Pam Keller, Keller Homes
-- Nancy Lewis, LH Holdings
-- Commissioner Peggy Littleton, El Paso County
-- Councilwoman Jan Martin, City of Colorado Springs
-- Vicki Mattox, StifelNicolaus
-- Alicia McConnell, United States Olympic Committee
-- Christina McGrath, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region
-- Mary Ellen McNally, Community Advocate
-- Chris Melcher, Colorado College
-- Carm Mocerti, Memorial Health System
-- C.J. Moore, Kaiser Permanente
-- Amanda Mountain, Rocky Mountain PBS - KTSC
-- Chuck Murphy, Murphy Construction
-- Donna Nelson, Security Service Federal Credit Union
-- Nathan Newbrough, Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra
-- Sherri Newell, Colorado Springs Utilities
-- Michael Pennnica, Pennica Financial Group
-- Doug Price, Experience Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak
-- Doug Quimby, La Plata Investments
-- Dee Rogers Brown, Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
-- Dave Rose, El Paso County
-- Steve Rothstein, The Colorado Springs Service Center Project
-- Margaret Sabin, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services
-- B.J. Scott, Peak Vista Community Health Centers
-- Randy Scott, Southern Colorado Business Partnership
-- Peter Scoville, Cushman & Wakefield
-- Steve Self, BBVA Compass Bank
-- Rod Slyhoff, Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce
-- Fred Veitch, Nor'wood Development
-- Sandy Wenger, Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
-- Councilwoman Brandy Williams, City of Colorado Springs
-- Martin Wood, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
-- Henry Yankowski, Pikes Peak Regional Building Development