EDC, chamber approve merger

RICH LADEN Updated: December 15, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: December 15, 2011

Two decades after an acrimonious split, the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. are reuniting with a goal of creating a single organization to help improve the Pikes Peak region’s economy.

The boards of the chamber and EDC voted Thursday to merge the area’s two leading business groups; the EDC decision was unanimous, while the chamber’s vote was described as nearly unanimous, officials from both groups said.

The decision followed several months of study by organization representatives, who were intrigued by the idea of doing more to jumpstart the local economy. Springs-area unemployment soared to a record high 10 percent early in 2011 and the EDC announced only 900 new jobs this year — about half of what it typically hopes to generate.

Talk of a merger also was prompted by a visit of local civic and business leaders to Oklahoma City, Okla., where a single organization has been credited with helping to boost that city’s business climate.

The new organization will be known as the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC. The merger takes effect Feb. 1, after the two groups align accounting and payroll systems, employee compensation and benefit plans and the like, said Doug Quimby and Bill Hodgkins, chair of the EDC and chamber boards, respectively.

“The new organization is going to allow a more effective, more unified approach to economic development and business assistance,” Quimby said. “We’ve cooperated and collaborated in the past, but ... we’ve had different goals and different strategies and different missions in the past.

“Now,” Quimby said, “we’ll be able to have a coordinated, integrated, one kind of comprehensive plan for economic development, job growth and services to small businesses, all of which are geared towards revitalizing the Colorado Springs economy. It’s something that’s just not possible with separate organizations.”

In addition, a unified organization will speak with a more powerful voice when it comes to city and county issues and state legislation, Hodgkins said.

“It offers us much more potential,” he said. “It will be more effective.”

The EDC had been part of the chamber until it broke off in 1991, following years of infighting and turf battles, mainly over the direction of job creation efforts.

Since their split, the EDC has focused on adding primary jobs — those that attract investment into the community — and the chamber has supported its member businesses on issues such as state and federal legislation and educational and assistance programs.

Details of the merger include:

• A 15-member board has been named to oversee the new organization; it includes five members nominated by the chamber, five by the EDC and five chosen from the community. The board will name a chairman after Feb. 1.

• One of the board’s first jobs: Hiring a president and CEO, based on recommendations from a previously formed, seven-member search committee. That panel has hired a consultant and launched a national search.; a CEO is expected to be hired in the first quarter of 2012.

• The staffs of the two organizations, which total about 30 employees, will be melded into one and no layoffs are planned, Quimby said. The new CEO will have more input on staffing.

• How much of the group’s mission will be devoted to economic development and how much to assisting local businesses will be determined by the new board, Hodgkins said.

• Funding will remain the same — a combination of investor contributions and member fees, Hodgkins said.

• Proposals have been solicited for new office space, but no decisions have been made on a headquarters, Hodgkins said. One thing for sure: The group will remain in downtown Colorado Springs, he said.

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen
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