John Hazlehurst

Next Monday, Colorado Springs Sister Cities International will host an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Tim Gill Center for Public Media, 315 E. Costilla St. According to the event press release, “Anyone interested in global citizen diplomacy, international relations or who simply wants to experience foreign cultures is invited to come learn about Colorado Springs’ seven sister cities and enjoy food, entertainment and fun!”

Food, entertainment and fun — what’s not to like? But how about unbelievable business opportunities, an occasion to leapfrog our city’s dour conservatism and the opportunity for some really foreign culture?

We already have seven sister cities — Ancient Olympia, Greece; Bankstown, Australia; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Fujiyoshida, Japan; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico; and Smolensk, Russia. They’re all fine, upstanding, mildly interesting places that few of us would ever want to visit. If there’s any money to be made or anything extraordinary to learn, we might want to go somewhere else.

We need to move quickly and decisively to make a couple of new friends — Tehran and Havana.

Consider Tehran. It’s the capital of Iran, a vast and ancient country with an area larger than England, France, Italy and Germany combined. The city’s 8.2 million inhabitants are typically young, educated, ambitious and eager for friendly contact with the rest of the world.

Thanks to the multiple misadventures of history, Iran and the United States have been bitterly estranged since 1979, but all that may be about to change. Thanks to Barack Obama, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, John Kerry and Javad Zarif, Iran and the United States might finally have normal relations.

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The process of normalization is further advanced in Cuba’s case. After more than 50 years of enmity, Cuba and the U.S. have resumed diplomatic relations, and it seems likely that trade, tourism and investment will rise exponentially in years to come.

Why shouldn’t we be leading the process instead of passively observing these historic changes?

Remember when the wall that divided the West from the countries of the former Soviet Union came tumbling down? Remember when Nixon went to China?

Once a repressed, backward country governed by a lunatic communist sect, China is now an economic powerhouse, as is Russia, with all its faults. For individuals, cities and countries alike, the opportunities were there to seize decades ago — but few had the courage and vision to do so.

So what opportunities are available to us in Iran or Cuba? Regional Business Alliance President and CEO Dirk Draper was intrigued by the idea.

“I don’t know that our cybersecurity industry will be ready to deal with those particular neighbors,” said an amused Draper, “but we welcome innovative ideas, and this is one that I haven’t heard.”

Yet it’s clear that many Colorado Springs businesses and nonprofits could benefit.

Education. Two-thirds of Iran’s population is younger than 25. Colorado College, UCCS, PPCC — are you ready for a flood of smart, curious and dedicated Iranian foreign students? They’d love our city, with its close proximity to ski areas. In case you didn’t know, Iran is home to a dozen ski areas, as well as an 18,000-foot peak that dwarfs our Fourteeners.

Lodging. Might Phil Anschutz and Perry Sanders see Iran and Cuba as undervalued assets ready for transformation? Sanders transformed a dilapidated downtown building into a four-star boutique hotel, while Anschutz has brought transformational energy to The Broadmoor. Perry, there are plenty of dilapidated buildings in Havana. Phil, how about a quiet, unobtrusive and environmentally friendly resort on one of Cuba’s pristine beaches?

Technology. We have plenty of small and medium-sized companies who are involved in exportable, non-defense technology.  We ought to help them to form relationships with customers, clients and potential partners in Cuba and Iran.

The list can go on, but I know of one local CEO who is probably extremely well informed about opportunities in Iran — although she might not wish to pursue them.

Techwise founder and CEO Shawnee Huckstep moved to Dubai two years ago to pursue opportunity in that extraordinary city.

Look at the map: Dubai is closer to Iran than Colorado Springs is to Fort Collins.

And think about that. One of the great cities of the world emerged from a fishing village at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iran has the world’s largest gas reserves, vast oil reserves, a population of 80 million — unleashed, those resources might build a dozen Dubais.

I can see the headline now: “Mayor Suthers to join Springs business leaders on Tehran trip.”

Can I come?


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