In the past, Colorado Springs economic developers focused outside the city limits, outside state boundaries — always looking toward California, Michigan, the East Coast or elsewhere to find businesses that might move to the region.
In recent months, it’s become clear that something has shifted. Instead of focusing on primary employers working outside the state, economic developers now are seeking to grow existing industries and play to the city’s strengths. That doesn’t mean the city has a lack of diversity in its business community — but it is a boon to businesses already located here, regardless of size.
The recent emphasis on cybersecurity, for instance, stems from growing what’s already here: the military presence and the defense corporations that always locate near major military commands, local academic institutions accredited and recognized by the National Security Agency as centers of excellence, and the city’s cybersecurity workforce, which is the fifth-largest in the nation. By focusing on the strength of that sector, other companies will make Colorado Springs their new home. The cybersecurity industry sector will take on a momentum of its own.
Economic development groups, like the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, are doing the same thing with another industry: aerospace. The RBA hopes to strengthen that sector by developing a commercial or civil government entity in Colorado Springs to manage space and orbital traffic — the satellite launches, the debris field, the practice flights by commercial groups like Space X and a host of other international space endeavors.
While the military still would maintain space situational awareness for national security, a civilian or commercial entity would handle tracking launches and re-entry, keeping them away from commercial air space and protecting national security.
Those organizations are also branding the city as Olympic City USA and Cyber City — moves away from the traditional views of Colorado Springs as a home to religious nonprofits and conservative extremists.
The strategy is important — not only to bolster local businesses, but to create the right kind of jobs that will thrive even when the next economic downturn comes. By creating homegrown industries, and fostering them, leaders in the Springs are assisting the city in growing beyond the boom-and-bust markets of the past. If companies grow organically, then they won’t move to greener pastures at the first hint of incentives. The city won’t deal with empty warehouses and office spaces when companies headquartered outside the city limits decide another state has a better economic package and tax deals.
Those high-tech jobs also attract young professionals with their goals of working for the social good. Secondary effects will include a stronger volunteer presence in the city, a larger focus on arts and culture, a wider donor base to assist nonprofit organizations.
It seems that the RBA and the city of Colorado Springs have learned from the past — watching as Intel left, Hewlett-Packard downsized and Atmel was purchased.
Building on the strengths already here — even those that aren’t well-known like the strong aerospace and satellite presence — can only assist job growth and economic development in Colorado Springs.
Let’s hope that those involved in economic development opportunities remain focused on what’s right about the Springs — instead of looking at the green, green grass across the borders in other states.