May 19, 2013
Colorado Springs has an image problem.
Young professionals and entrepreneurs around the country look at Colorado Springs and see what could be a beautiful place to live, if only it were more welcoming of them. They want a city that will foster new businesses and technologies and provide social opportunities for their downtime.
Incidents like last month's rejection of the solar garden project by our new City Council reinforce the perception that Colorado Springs does not welcome entrepreneurs. Two weeks after the old council approved the project, a project that would have put Colorado Springs on the forefront of the emerging clean energy industry, the new council repealed the decision. Of course, the new council had none of the institutional knowledge that led to the previous council's decision. They hadn't been part of the eight months of negotiations among the solar companies, Colorado Springs Utilities, and the city government. But that didn't stop them from using short-sighted ideology to react.
There's also the perception that young professionals are widely kept out of the decision-making processes of the city. City council and many of the city's boards and commissions meet mid-day during the week, times when most young professionals are working their full-time jobs to provide for their families. A group of young professionals came forward earlier this year to try to gain more access by making council a paid position. This would have allowed them to serve the city while still supporting their families, but the mayor spoke out against them and convinced many of the city's power brokers to do the same. This type of active exclusion, intentional or not, creates the perception for young professionals that they will not have a seat at the table.
The Knight Foundation, in its Soul of the Community project (www.soulofthecommunity.org), spent three years studying what aspects of a community make it an attractive place to live. The project identified three main qualities: social offerings such as art, theater, and entertainment; openness to a diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints; and aesthetics.
We have these qualities. But the perception of some within the city and many outside of it is that we do not.
The primary reason these perceptions persist is that this community is often unwilling to make the investments needed to change them. Part of successful business is knowing when to invest now to make a profit later. Being fiscally conservative needs to go hand in hand with being fiscally responsible; failing to make proper investments for the future of our community is irresponsible.
When we make proper investments in entrepreneurs, we attract others to the city who are looking for opportunity for their businesses to succeed. This attracts more money and creates a "cool" perception for the city, which in turn can attract more tourism dollars. More industries and young professionals moving in raise property values. Everyone wins.
A small investment now can turn into a huge benefit later, and Colorado Springs needs to start making that investment.
Tony Gioia is the chairman of the Rising Professionals Civic Engagement Committee. Contact him at email@example.com.