For four days this week, 50 business leaders and city officials joined the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance for its annual trip to Washington, D.C.
This year’s itinerary included meetings with health care think tanks, defense officials and companies considering moving to or expanding in Colorado Springs. By all accounts, the meetings were both productive and informative — although the news wasn’t always good.
Part of the group spent Tuesday at the Pentagon and Wednesday with the state’s congressional delegation, where they heard about the chances for a continuing resolution by the end of the day (pretty good) to avert a government shutdown and the effects that the budget impasse in Congress was having on defense efforts (really bad).
“The looming effects of sequestration, the slicing of the Army, upcoming BRAC [base realignment and closure], we heard about all of those from Lt. Gen. Joe Anderson,” said Boeing’s Tony Przbyslawski of the visit with Anderson, the former Fort Carson commanding general. “Then, we heard about the same information from the Air Force that afternoon.”
And both groups provided information that was difficult to hear for the Colorado Springs delegation: The military has too much infrastructure — about 30 percent over its needs — and that leads to closing bases and consolidating missions.
“So here they are, trying to deal with sequestration, which is always in their face, and trying to plan with 80 percent of the 2015 budget and the need for a continuing resolution — while trying to do their jobs and defend the nation,” Przbyslawski said.
“It’s hard for them. I have a soft spot for the people assigned to the Pentagon. It’s a tough balancing act.”
And the group moved from the Pentagon on Tuesday to the halls of Congress Wednesday, hearing many of the same frustrations.
“Our congressional delegation talks about how they are trying to work together — [Cory] Gardner and [Michael] Bennet both are working on bipartisan solutions, but we just need everyone else to get together and move the nation forward in the right direction,” he said. “And it was good to get our concerns in the Pikes Peak region in front of them.”
The four-day trip is important to Colorado Springs on many fronts, said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Business Alliance. First, he says, it gives people in Washington, D.C., an idea of the Pikes Peak region and its concerns.
“But we also get to see the region through their eyes,” he said. “We get to know what they think of Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak region and the role it plays in the state. That’s very important.”
“ We get to know what they think of Colorado Springs, the Pikes Peak region and the role it plays in the state.”
– Dirk Draper
For Debbie Chandler, CEO of Colorado Springs Health Partners, the opportunities were different: the chance to showcase what the Springs is doing for health care and to network to be part of any pilot projects coming out of Washington think tanks.
Chandler spent the[a ?] day at two health care policy think tanks, learning about the latest innovative ways to deliver health care in a more collaborative environment.
It was a chance to make connections that will pay off in the future for the area as a whole, she says.
“These groups always have pilot projects and when they learned about how collaborative the health care community is in Colorado Springs — how we’re all working together — they said they’d think of us first when they got the chance to test their latest ideas.”
But the biggest payoff might come in the coming months, said Mayor John Suthers, who spent part of the trip talking with five businesses considering the Springs for relocation or expansion.
“These were businesses in cyber security technology and space technology,” he said. “The good news is that they were already very aware of the Springs and what we do here.”
Suthers said he had his work cut out for him — the companies already are being heavily courted by other cities.
“The good news is that they know we have a good quality of life here; they know the political climate here is improving,” Suthers said of the meetings. “But they needed convincing that the workforce they need is here.”
That shows the importance of this annual trip — with enough people to go to various areas of interest, the Springs can increase its efforts to improve the local economy, create jobs and develop new collaborations during a whirlwind visit.
And when they get back to the Springs? Then, the work really starts.