Draper takes over at RBA

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The initial task for the new president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance will be to rebuild bruised relationships with the business community.

Dirk Draper will begin his new job May 1, and he anticipates spending the first three months talking with business owners and “doing a lot of listening” to their concerns.

Draper, 55, will fill the position most recently held by Joe Raso, who resigned in November. During his 30 months as the organization’s chief executive, Raso fulfilled his board-directed task of merging the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce with the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.

“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,” Draper said. “I am very pleased to return to a leadership role with the area’s foremost business development and advocacy organization.”

Draper had served as a board member of the EDC and as board chair of the chamber in 2010 prior to the merger, 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.

Since last week’s announcement, he said, “It’s just been a whirlwind. 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.”

Draper said he seeks 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.”

Near on the horizon, Draper said he is excited about the city’s pipeline full of business prospects, 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.

A community leader

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.

Draper has 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 Ministry at the Woodmen Valley Chapel. He serves on the advisory committee of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations and on the board of directors of the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute. He had been on the boards of Memorial Health System and 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.

Three factors, Draper said, attracted him to the RBA post:

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 are relevant to the community.

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

Draper and his wife Jeanie will celebrate 30 years of marriage 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.

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

“I have put down roots wherever I’ve lived,” he said. “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 concept, having spent 10 years working at United Bank in the commercial lending division for small businesses. Draper left that post to return to college and earn his master’s degree.

Others react

“Dirk is a highly respected and successful community leader,” said Debbie Chandler, board chair of the Business Alliance. “His community involvement and leadership are exactly what we are looking for to lead us.”

“We are looking forward to having Dirk on board,” said Business Alliance 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 work as interim executive.

“We are very grateful for Toby’s contribution of personal time to play a leadership role  … over the past four months,” Chandler said. “Toby’s unselfish and effective leadership … has allowed us to be well-positioned.”

The Business Alliance lists multiple recent successes, including launching the Keep Carson Strong campaign; helping attract Sierra Completions to build high-end aircraft interior modifications at the Colorado Springs Airport, which may generate up to 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 about contracting with the government and defense firms; and introducing a renewed Ambassador program, to better serve member investors.