Opinion

17 for ’17: People to watch in local business

As the new year begins for Colorado Springs, optimism reigns across the shadow of Pikes Peak, and it’s not just based on fantasy.

For months, reports have brought wave after wave of positive news about the local and regional economy. From new jobs in construction to real estate deals and record tourism, we’ve seen enough to feel excited about what lies ahead in the next year.

As part of the Business Journal’s first issue of 2017, I will follow a familiar path, identifying specific people worth watching in the Colorado Springs region’s business community during the year ahead.

In no particular order, here are our 17 for ’17:

Venkat Reddy. Even if he simply continued in his role at UCCS as dean of the College of Business, that would be significant enough to qualify here. But now, as the interim (and perhaps permanent) chancellor after Pam Shockley-Zalabak retires next month, Reddy will have a larger opportunity to influence the university’s fast-growing impact on the local scene.

Ingrid Richter. As executive director of the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, Richter guided the project through its opening in 2016. Now comes the growth phase, as the campus works to reach its goal of building partnerships to enhance the local presence in technology, aerospace and defense.

Ed Rios. Already a respected former Air Force colonel, Rios became the perfect match for the fledgling National Cybersecurity Center as its first CEO. He knows the cyber world well, and he’s positioned now to lead the movement to make Colorado Springs a true national cyber hub.

Dirk Draper. After 18 months as head of the Regional Business Alliance, Draper is guiding the organization by embracing its past, renaming it as the Chamber & EDC. Given that he’s also a former chamber board chairman from before its merger with the EDC, Draper faces the challenge of combining the best of both entities. In an improving economy with lots of prospects for outside companies perhaps relocating or expanding here — Draper knows there’s no time to relax.

Dick Celeste. The former Ohio governor and ambassador to India could have retired peacefully after his tenure as president of Colorado College, but Celeste sought one last mountain to climb as he leads the effort to build the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. That campaign, and the work to make the museum a treasure, will take center stage this year with fundraising deadlines coming and groundbreaking soon to follow.

Chris Jenkins. No list of local business leaders would be legitimate without including Jenkins, the developer who continues to focus on shaping a downtown renaissance (but don’t forget Banning Lewis Ranch).

Aimee Cox. Nobody has been more effective at combining local business, government and nonprofit resources to address the city’s homeless problems and housing needs. After making much progress in 2016, don’t be surprised to see more.

Perry Sanders. The determined attorney and hotelier, after adding The Antlers hotel to a local presence that began with the Mining Exchange, insists he has more big plans to come. We’ll see some evidence with the ongoing Antlers renovations, but Sanders still is talking about a major skyscraper to change the city’s downtown landscape.

Jim Johnson. His late father, the founder of GE Johnson Construction, would be proud of Jim’s ambitious plans to build the Olympic Museum and the planned Pikes Peak Summit Complex at the same time.

Farley McDonough. She’s busy enough running the renowned Adams Mountain Cafe with her co-owner husband, but McDonough also heads the Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority that’s taking advantage of the just-started Westside Avenue Action Plan to modernize the West Colorado/Manitou Avenue area.

Tony Ensor. As president and general manager of the Sky Sox, Ensor and the team’s ownership still have a chance to work with business interests on the idea of a downtown ballpark. It’s a delicate situation, but it still could happen.

Bob Willard. The developer of Gold Hill Mesa prefers to stay out of the limelight, but he’s active behind the scenes. The parent company sent positive signals in mid-2016 that a new commercial presence, comparable to some aspects of University Village Colorado, might begin in 12-18 months.

Greg Phillips. Just starting as new director of the Colorado Springs Airport, Phillips brings good ties with multiple airlines from his past years in Vail. With that, and the chance for Frontier adding more nonstop service, Phillips could have an instant impact.

Dot Lischick. The only general manager in the Broadmoor World Arena’s 19-year history now is working to make the most of the partnership with Anschutz Entertainment Group, which should mean more top-drawer entertainment for the arena and Pikes Peak Center.

David Dahlin. In his third year as CEO of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Dahlin now plays a vital role in implementing the FAC’s alliance with Colorado College.

Hannah Parsons. In just a few years, Parsons has established herself locally, first as an entrepreneur and now as the chief economic development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, along with serving as chairwoman of the Downtown Partnership.

Joel Yuhas. The new president/CEO of Memorial Hospital, who starts next week, has the chance to continue UCHealth’s resurgent momentum in the local health care market.

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