November 15, 2013 Updated: November 21, 2013 at 11:24 am
The city's leading business organization is nearly doubling the size of its board of directors in what its leaders say is an effort to better represent sectors of the economy that hold the potential for growth.
In expanding its board to 25 from 15, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance says it wanted to have members from those sectors whose expertise could be tapped to support and grow those industries, said Joe Raso, the alliance's president and CEO.
The targeted sectors include aerospace and defense, health care, higher education, sports and professional services. Some of the alliance's new board members include Pam Shockley-Zalabak, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs; Pikes Peak Community College President Lance Bolton; and Mike Scialdone, CEO of Memorial Health System.
"It really is more about the mission and the growth of the economy and making sure we have the leadership that has that expertise and focus and can keep us on track in those areas that we think we have the greatest growth potential," Raso said.
The board expansion is the latest change for the organization, which was created in 2012 from a merger of the old Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. and Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
After the merger was finalized, Raso was hired from an economic development group in Iowa; some staffers were laid off and new ones were hired; and the combined organization changed its name to the Business Alliance.
The board expansion comes at a time when the organization is undergoing greater scrutiny and, at times, criticism from the community. The Colorado Springs-area unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in August, and job announcements this year have been relatively few.
Jim Johnson, president, CEO and majority owner of G.E. Johnson Construction Co., said he hasn't decided whether to contribute financially to the alliance for 2014. He said he's disappointed in a lack of job growth, and doesn't believe the organization has demonstrated a clear business strategy.
"I think there are a lot of people out there who want to support them," Johnson said. "I just can't give money in today's economy or any economy without knowing what I'm contributing to."
Raso said the alliance has had multiple meetings with Johnson and other business leaders to demonstrate the organization's work and value to the community. More than 40 business leaders have signed on to support a long-term strategy and investment campaign that will be discussed by the alliance in early December, Raso said.
"We're going to continue to reach out to Jim and others. They'll make up their own mind based on the basis of what we're sharing and the work that we're doing."
One group that's stepped up its scrutiny of the organization is the Colorado Springs City Council, which delayed a decision this week on whether to continue the city's annual financial contribution to the alliance. The RBA has routinely received money from a special fund through Colorado Springs Utilities, but the City Council, serving as the Utilities Board, didn't sign off on a proposed $240,000 contribution for next year. The money would support the business group's proposed $4 million budget for 2014.
Some council members have questioned the alliance's support for the City for Champions tourism project, and others have said they wanted to know more about what the city gets in return for its annual investment.
The board expansion also comes as the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs is scheduled to decide whether to continue its contribution to the alliance.
Over the last decade, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs has contributed about $200,000 to $1 million a year to the RBA and the former Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. John Bissett, outgoing board president of the HBA, said Friday he doubts the alliance's board expansion would affect the funding decision of his group's members. The alliance didn't add an HBA member to its expanded board; however HBA chief executive officer Renee Zentz is a non-voting member. Developer Chris Jenkins, an alliance board member, also has strong ties to the HBA.
Earlier this year, the HBA told the alliance it wanted to see 2,000 jobs created by November - a goal the alliance has failed to meet, Bissett said. Still, he said he doubts the HBA wants to pull the plug on its support.
"I can't speak for regular builder-members, but I don't' see anything changing," Bissett said. "I think the organization will continue to support them - and continue to challenge them."
Despite the timing, the board expansion isn't related to the pending decisions by the council and HBA, Raso said. The alliance's existing board had been discussing the expansion since January, he said.