When the subject has been economic development in the Business Journal, usually the focal point of the conversation has been the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, and understandably so.
But sometimes it helps to hear other opinions, especially when they’re coming from others in our midst who also have an ownership stake in the regional economy.
Such was the case last week at the CSBJ-sponsored Power Lunch with mayors or high-ranking elected leaders from five surrounding communities — Fountain, Monument, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls — sharing their views on regional issues, problems and challenges.
The result was a fascinating discussion ranging from retail marijuana (Manitou Springs, of course) to stormwater and relationships with the Colorado Springs city government. It also provided several nuggets worth sharing:
• Economic development. Perhaps we should be thinking more broadly than just through the Colorado Springs lens. Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega talked about working to bring more businesses to his town that might not be directly tied to the military, allowing for more stability if budget cuts eventually do have a major impact on the Army and Fort Carson. Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder described how his town is trying to broaden its economic base with more year-round businesses that don’t rise or fall on seasonal tourism.
Also, Monument Mayor Rafael Dominguez talked about having too many employees working at that city’s companies who have to drive from Castle Rock, Colorado Springs and even Pueblo, making residential development a priority as well as trying to stop young professionals from leaving.
• Cooperation. It obviously exists already on some fronts, as Ortega mentioned, with Fountain being helped by the Regional Business Alliance on occasion. But Dominguez took that a step further, talking about the need for more ammunition in seeking companies that might move to the Monument/Tri-Lakes area in northern El Paso County.
His suggestion is a good one: Develop a countywide program of incentives — preapproved and available as quickly as needed — that would be useful to show companies interested in relocating or expanding. As Dominguez put it, that’s potentially a good way to be smarter about economic development tactics.
• Retail marijuana. Obviously this one has Manitou Springs alone on the stage for now, but Snyder doesn’t mind. He is convinced the “funky” town has taken the right course, moving slowly and waiting until after the initial mystique of retail marijuana has worn off. With a Maggie’s Farm retail store opening this week, and a second store owned by another licensee coming soon to a nearby spot on Manitou’s eastern edge, the town that has dealt with so many disastrous events in recent years could be on the brink of a windfall if all goes well.
We haven’t taken a stand on retail marijuana locally; many in the business community have opposed it. But let’s keep an open mind. Denver and Pueblo have survived a half-year with retail marijuana, and Manitou stands to learn from others’ problems. So if the end result is an economic boost to Manitou, without a lasting negative impact otherwise, we’ll see whether Colorado Springs might put that question to its voters next April.
All that (and more) from having lunch with leaders across the region. Obviously, we’ll be doing this one again.