In the 1800s, when there were but only 35,000 people living in the entire territory of what is now known as Colorado, with many small farming and ranching communities, there came times when the need to work in a cooperative manner overrode all other considerations — and the people came together to help each other.
When one farmer needed to raise a barn, farmers from around the region would buggy-in on a Saturday and help raise the barn. If a farmer had a bad crop, the community came together to see that his family had food for the winter.
It did not matter if the farmer was a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a progressive, if he was a religious man or not. He needed a barn. The need to help our neighbors in a harsh environment was the guiding factor. Teamwork and cooperation were the keys to survival.
Perhaps that’s even more the case today in a fiscally challenged local economy.
It is interesting to note that as the population grew, and “politics” became more prevalent, a new higher level of conflict entered the scene. It led to the very strife we are seeing now, and have seen for years in El Paso County — and today, it has become a serious problem within city government.
The process by which Colorado formally became a state required 16 years. Four separate votes were required and three separate attempts to draft a state constitution took place before President Ulysses S. Grant signed the proclamation making Colorado the 38th state on Aug. 1, 1876.
The problem, then and now
First, there was the “clash of egos” we see in local Colorado Springs politics today. Three Colorado politicians were battling each other to become U.S. senators. Second, there was the “tightwad” philosophy of the early settlers, and third was the epic battle between then-President Andrew Johnson and the RRR (Radical Republican Reconstructionists).
Egos. Tightwads. Radical Republicans.
From the legendary friction that has existed for years between city and county politicians, and the strife and friction and outright conflict between Mayor Steve Bach and City Council, we see the same problems that have existed dating all the way back to 1876! But now, those problems draw national attention.
In April 2009, upon the completion of a thorough economic development analysis (Project 6035, Angelou Economics of Austin, Texas) of the region, two key factors were identified as ones that would inhibit economic growth for the Pikes Peak region:
1. “Lack of vision for the region, leadership and collaboration;” and
2. “Polarizing ideological differences in the political arena.”
Five years later, the region faces the same issues inhibiting economic stability and growth as were highlighted in 2009, yet we do not have the willingness to cooperate and collaborate as did the early settlers who worked together.
They did it. We talk about it.
Due to any number of factors — to include the “social image” damage done two decades ago with the Amendment 2 fiasco, to the more recent reputation of being too fiscally conservative to support local needs, we are finding it almost impossible to attract major firms needed to boost revenues through job creation.
We are at the same time facing potential employment loss through the coming 2017 sequestration and the scheduled 2018 Base Closure and Realignment process.
We have begun to see layoffs in the defense industry. More than 24,000 manufacturing jobs have evaporated in less than two decades. Yet we see no new major firms move to the region or jobs in any significant numbers.
In recent local elections, it has become almost a universal platform for current elected officials and challengers that “the economy” and “creating jobs” were the most important issues.
So far, we have strife and conflict growing to a point where it is being recognized by site selection consultants. Major firms are building and opening facilities in Reno, Nev.; Prineville, Ore.; Altoona and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Austin.
Not in Colorado Springs.
Strife and conflict were key factors in two national firms stating they would select other cities. “Unstable local government” was cited by one major firm that wishes to remain unnamed. Separately, Facebook listed three major reasons: A) insufficient intellectual capital; B) uncertainty over the future of utilities and rates; and C) unstable local government.
Time for action
The call for action seems clear. The region has established a reputation as being “business unfriendly and unstable” at a time when local politicians “say” they are making Colorado Springs the “most business friendly city in the nation.”
The questions: when and by whom?
The action starts with forming a public policy review panel that can develop a cohesive, effective working relationship between the city, county and regional leadership entities that can bring all the focus to bear on the one major problem — local government and local politicians who are not getting the job done.
The most critical need is the establishment of a regional strategic plan using the “guns and butter” concept of recognizing that we have too few resources to meet all needs and that a process of prioritization will be required to provide basic services, as future revenue declines are imminent.
It is time to put petty politics and politicians aside. It is time for them to be replaced by progressive policies, crafted by a team of leaders who can see the overall needs of the region as a priority and set forth a plan which all entities can buy into and work toward regional solutions.
Cooperation and collaboration.
We got the talkin’ done.
Now, to build a team that can bring all parties into one room, admit the problem — and deal with it.
Richard D. Wehner is a retired business owner from Fort Worth, Texas, who has been spending summers in Colorado Springs since 1955. Since 2002, he has been a strong advocate promoting the concept of “Regionalism — Cooperation — and Coordination” for the local area through his advocacy organization: SpringsUnigroup.