More than 40 people from Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region listened intently as the breakfast speaker talked about her fascinating life, from being Ohio’s first high-level African-American judge to overseeing the United Way of Central Ohio in Columbus. Janet Jackson talked in depth about dealing with tough issues such as poverty, housing and child education. Then the door opened, and the first of two unforgettable moments in one day unfolded.
Dick Celeste entered the room, joining the Colorado contingent on the 2016 Regional Leaders Trip. But little did the group realize what would happen next. In our city, he’s the former Colorado College president now leading the campaign to build the U.S. Olympic Museum. In Ohio, Celeste is far more — not just that state’s former governor, but a revered giant.
Jackson stopped her speech, yelled “GOVERNOR!” and raced to give Celeste a bear hug, which he reciprocated by lifting her high into the air. She then told the Coloradans how much Celeste had done to transform Ohio, not to mention his historic appointment that made her a judge. It was heartwarming, to say the least.
About six hours later, the same group of Springs-area leaders gathered on one corner of the sprawling Ohio State University campus at EWI, which bills itself as “a world leader in developing and deploying new technologies that enable companies to bridge the gap between [research and development] and manufacturing implementation.”
That’s an impressive mission, to say the least, collaborating with clients to develop new technologies, producing $30 million in annual revenue. One in-house affiliate, Fabrisonic, boasts one of the world’s largest manufacturing-based 3D printers.
But that all had to start somewhere, and amid a struggling economy in the 1980s, then-Gov. Celeste provided the impetus and political power to take a welding operation to new horizons in metals and manufacturing. One of EWI’s staffers said that whenever she tells the company’s story, she talks about how Celeste made it happen. But on this day, instead of relating that story second-hand, EWI executive Mark Schimming was glad to have Celeste eloquently share the memory.
This regional leaders trip wasn’t planned around Celeste, but his mere presence clearly affected how everyone viewed the Colorado delegation. That even carried over into one group’s side trip to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where Celeste was credited for aggressively creating Ohio’s initial investment and commitment to bring the Rock Hall there over other cities that showed interest without putting money on the table.
And for the record, EWI is expanding its presence to Colorado, with a facility set to open by September in Loveland. But EWI’s Schimming confirmed that Colorado Springs also is a possibility, with serious discussions already taking place. They like the idea of perhaps having good space near the Springs airport.
Many other themes were part of the regional leaders’ Ohio agenda, as they explored infill development, transportation, health and aging, arts and culture, cybersecurity and much more.
As with other years, the idea wasn’t to duplicate what another city does, but pick up ideas and strategies that might make a difference in Colorado Springs. That’s how the regional leaders trips have succeeded for nearly a decade, and they’ve made the investment of time, money and people pay off many times over.
Nobody came home wondering whether this effort was worth it. And having someone of Dick Celeste’s stature made this trip to Ohio that much more valuable.