A group of nearly 300 top employers across the area plans to add 4,839 jobs over the next three years, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance reported Tuesday in its year-end member investor briefing.
Also, the Business Alliance is courting nine unnamed companies that are seriously considering relocation with the potential of bringing a total of more than 5,000 additional jobs to Colorado Springs, officials said, adding hope that the improving economy might lead to some future successes in that aspect of economic development.
About 60 business leaders attended the RBA investor briefing, which included presentations by Al Wenstrand, chief business development officer; Andy Merritt, chief defense industry officer; and Julie Boswell, chief operations officer for the organization.
Wenstrand said the job growth projections came from staff interviews this year with local companies to assess their situations and needs.
“We have some work to do to help them,” Wenstrand said, singling out the need to repeal a medical device excise tax that was part of the Affordable Care Act but might be removed. “We have companies making medical devices that are ready to expand. But they’re all just waiting to see what happens.”
As for companies checking into Colorado Springs, Wenstrand said the first months after he joined the RBA staff last April were “sad … but Labor Day was really a turning point for us.” He cited four recent visits by companies and the announcement that USA Ultimate, the national governing body for the sport of Frisbee, would be bringing its offices back to Colorado Springs.
Wenstrand also pointed to a recent CBRE (formerly Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis) report touting Colorado Springs as one of the best places in the United States for new data centers.
“We should make a lot of hay out of this,” Wenstrand said, “but first we have some state regulations that we need to deal with” regarding how information technology companies are taxed.
Looking ahead, Wenstrand said the Business Alliance has set a very aggressive goal in the area of startup businesses, aiming to have 800 “active startups” by 2020. He defined those active startups as having existed one to five years and creating primary jobs, with the potential of revenues increasing by 10 times over the next five years.
Colorado Springs now has about 80, Wenstrand said, adding, “If we can get to 800, we’ll be right in there with places like Boulder, Austin and Boston.”
“We get a lot of pressure to attract headquarters,” he said, “but the truth is, you don’t attract headquarters. You grow headquarters.”
Perhaps the best way to do that, Wenstrand said, already exists with what he called an emerging “Downtown Innovation District,” led by Nor’wood Development Group with its plans related to health, wellness and sports including the old Gazette and St. Francis Hospital buildings, and the O’Neil Group developing its Catalyst Campus focused on engineering, cyber and IT in the Homburg Center (former train station) complex, both on the east edge of downtown.
“That’s all private money,” Wenstrand said. “And with that on one side of downtown, and the City for Champions projects on the southwest side — that vision needs to be sold.”
Merritt said one of the RBA’s priorities with the military is “making sure the decision-makers are thinking of us” in the same way they’re constantly aware of other cities such as Omaha, Neb.; Huntsville, Ala.; and San Antonio.
Merritt also spoke with optimism about Colorado forming a state-level military support group headed by the bipartisan trio of Joe Blake, former head of the Denver Chamber; former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, who later headed the University of Colorado system from 2005-08; and Dick Celeste, former Ohio governor and Colorado College president now leading the U.S. Olympic Museum effort.
Protecting air space
Another positive step, Merritt said, is the state planning to have a military air space coordinator to represent local and military interests when needed. That problem has become more obvious, he said, with Denver International Airport’s broadening air space requirements having an impact on the Air Force Academy’s air space needs for training.
“The Academy can’t afford to lose any more space,” Merritt said. “DIA’s routes are affecting the military here. We need to be looking ahead.”
Boswell said the RBA plans 144 events for 2015 and has been working with the Small Business Development Center on “how to better serve” that sector. The early highlight, she said, would be Gov. John Hickenlooper speaking about state issues on Jan. 28.
RBA Board Chairman Tom Neppl of Springs Fabrication, who passes that duty to Debbie Chandler of Colorado Springs Health Partners at the end of the month, said a selection committee looking for a new president and CEO had its first meeting this week with plans to make a decision in January.