Dirk Draper
Dirk Draper

Dirk Draper, already well-known as a local business leader, accepted the offer to become the new president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

The announcement was made Friday morning after the RBA board met Thursday and approved a recommendation to hire Draper.

He will start May 1.

“I am very pleased to return to a leadership role with the area’s foremost business development and advocacy organization,” said Draper, 55. “The strength of the Regional Business Alliance is dependent upon building strong relationships with the business community, member investors, elected officials, the military and community partners.

“I am eager to get started and work to create broader community support, which the Business Alliance needs to continue to grow our region’s economy.

“I feel really energized. Ready to go.”

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The first item on Draper’s agenda is to build and rebuild relationships with the business community and leaders in the community, whether elected, employed or volunteer.

As such, he said he will spend his first 90 days talking with people in the community, to discover “how we can be a trusted and valued partner in the process of building. A lot of that is spending time with people in the business community, understanding their needs and how the Business Alliance can help. I’ll be doing a lot of listening,” he said.

In 2011, the Greater Colorado Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation merged together to become the RBA. Draper served as a board member of the EDC and as board chair of the chamber in 2010, so he has “deep roots in this organization. I want to see this organization succeed. I also want to see it be vibrant and relevant to the community again,” Draper said.

Draper will be married to Jeanie for 30 years on April 13. They have three children, Luke 20, a sophomore at Colorado State University; Madeline, who graduated early from Air Academy High School; and Lydia, 16, a sophomore at Air Academy High School.

An economist, Draper, was serving as vice president of CH2M HILL, Inc., a Fortune 500 company whose Colorado Springs office provides planning, engineering and construction management services to clients in southern Colorado. His industry expertise led to leadership roles in community development, including technical support to identify benefits and quantify fees of a regional storm water program for the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority campaign. He has been with CH2MHill since 2002.

He also is a board member of Memorial Health System. And he’s been involved with the Business Alliance, serving on the board of its Center for Regional Advancement. He is also on the board of the Center for Strategic Ministries at the Woodmen Valley Chapel and the board of directors at the Catamount Institute.

Draper has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree in natural resource economics from Colorado State University.

Draper said three things drew him to this position: it would challenge him professionally and personally; the director is a role that is impactful to the organization; and it’s an organization and role that is relevant to the community.

“Doesn’t everyone want a job that’s relevant, impactful and challenging? Don’t you think it’s an enviable position?”

He has lived in Colorado Springs 13 years. During his time here and in previous locations in Colorado and Missouri, where he grew up, he has been engaged in the community.

“I have put down roots where ever I’ve lived. I’ve been on boards and volunteered. That’s part of what makes communities work. I understand how community works.”

He also understands the “Main Street” business community and how that works. He spent 10 years at United Bank in the commercial lending division for small businesses, leaving that post to return to college and earn his master’s degree.

On Colorado Springs’ horizon, Draper said he is excited about the pipeline of business prospects happening in the Springs, including the Catalyst Campus, the former Gazette campus public market, Sierra Completions and others poised to make Colorado Springs their headquarters.

“We need to land those, bring them to fruition,” he said.

Draper replaces Joe Raso, who resigned in November to pursue other opportunities. The Business Alliance board then undertook a search, looking both locally and nationally, but with a clear priority of finding a local replacement if possible. A selection committee narrowed the list of candidates to two finalists, and then Draper was chosen.

“We are excited the board has selected Dirk to lead the Business Alliance. Dirk is a highly respected and successful community leader,” said Debbie Chandler, chair of the board of the Business Alliance, in a news release.

“When we served together on the Chamber of Commerce Board, I experienced his leadership skills firsthand. While overseeing a very successful business operation, Dirk was able to lead the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) renewal campaign and work on a host of other community boards and initiatives. His community involvement and leadership are exactly what we are looking for to lead us forward.”

The CEO selection process began in January under the leadership of Charles Emmer, former CEO of Ent Federal Credit Union, and a search committee comprised of eight other community leaders, including Chris Blees, president and CEO, BiggsKofford, P.C.; Kathy Boe, CEO, Boecore, Inc.; Dennis Hisey, chair, El Paso County commissioners; Phil Lane, manager, Culebra Properties; Jan Martin, council member at-large, Colorado Springs City Council; Doug Quimby, president, La Plata Communities, Inc.; Pam Shockley-Zalabak, Ph.D., chancellor and professor of communication, University of Colorado Colorado Springs; and Linda Weise, founding executive director, Colorado Springs Conservatory.

The search committee engaged Randy Scott, Front Range Executive Services Corps, who specializes in nonprofit executive recruitment, to assist the Board of Directors of the Business Alliance who made the hiring decision.

“We are looking forward to having Dirk on board,” said Business Alliance Board Vice-Chair Matt Coleman. “We have made some significant improvements with the formation of board councils that strengthen the support to our key areas of defense, community and economic development.  Dirk will work closely with the board to ensure we accelerate results in these areas.” 

Chandler praised Board Secretary Toby Gannett for his contributions as interim CEO, providing guidance and support to the staff of the Business Alliance and interfacing with community leaders and member investors. 

“We are very grateful for Toby’s contribution of personal time to play a leadership role with the Business Alliance over the past four months,” Chandler said. “He and the Business Alliance leadership team have continued to move the organization forward at a rapid pace. Toby’s unselfish and effective leadership over the past months has allowed us to be well-positioned moving forward.”

In recent months, the Business Alliance has garnered multiple successes, including launching the highly acclaimed multi-media Keep Carson Strong campaign, which generated community response and support; taking a leadership role in Sierra Completions’ plan to build high-end aircraft at the Colorado Springs Airport, which is anticipated to generate 2,100 jobs over the next five years; supporting the USA Ultimate headquarters’ relocation; co-hosting the Aerospace and Defense Forum, which helped small business owners learn more about contracting with the government and large prime defense companies; and introducing a renewed ambassador program, to better serve member investors, the release said.

In addition, the Business Alliance has strengthened relationships with elected leaders and the Downtown Partnership by creating collaborative alliances that benefit the overall community.

With the recent U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement of 4,900 jobs added to the region in 2014 and the growing level of interest from companies considering relocating operations to Colorado Springs, 2015 could be the best year on record in decades. New and energized leadership at the Business Alliance will ensure that this momentum is maximized to support and grow a stronger economy for the people of this region, the news release said.

This story will be updated as more information comes available.