Not unlike the prominent weather systems that develop along the Palmer Divide, two northern El Paso County forces have combined to create a more powerful system.

The Tri-Lakes Economic Development Corporation and the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce formalized what they termed “a strategic partnership” last week, merging the two entities.

The decision to join forces came out of discussions last November, when the all-volunteer EDC announced it would begin to look for a paid, part-time executive director.

Creating a single entity for local business support only made sense, said Terri Hayes, president and CEO of the newly created Tri-Lakes Chamber, EDC and Visitor Center. Hayes said she has collaborated for years with EDC President and CEO Danette Lilja, laying the foundation for a successful partnership.

“This will benefit both organizations, but it will benefit the business community more,” Hayes said. “The old Tri-Lakes EDC, being volunteer — there was only a certain level they could take this. [The board is made up of] very busy professionals. They recognized that they got to the point where paid staff needed to get involved.”

Lilja agreed, saying that “the obvious choice was to solidify our relationship with the chamber and utilize their resources.”

- Advertisement -

The boards of directors for both organizations voted unanimously to approve the partnership and both agencies, which will consist of two full-time employees and one part-time worker, will operate from the Tri-Lakes chamber’s office located at 166 Second St. in Monument.

‘A good working relationship’

Under the new model, the EDC’s board will become an economic development advisory board, with Lilja acting as chairwoman. She will also sit on the chamber’s board through the end of the year. Her replacement as chairman will also serve on the chamber’s board, she said.

The partnership, according to Hayes, will better equip both organizations to focus on their collective missions to increase economic development, grow employment and retain businesses.

EDC efforts at the beginning of the partnership will primarily revolve around business retention and expansion, Hayes said.

“We want to keep businesses here and be sure they have everything from us that they need,” she said. “If it seems feasible, we can look at recruiting businesses.”

Hayes said the greatest change businesses north of Colorado Springs will experience is increased access to EDC services.

“Someone will be answering the phone from [9 a.m to 5 p.m.], Monday through Friday. They’ll get responses to questions a lot quicker,” she said.

“We’re very optimistic about centralizing functions and working together. I think [two organizations are] confusing to people outside the area. This provides a single point of contact when businesses want to do economic development in the area. They don’t have to work across two separate organizations.”

Although the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance was the result of a melding of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the city’s EDC in 2011, both Hayes and Lilja said that partnership was not the model used in the Tri-Lakes area.

“There were no correlations at all,” Hayes said. “We’re not large enough in staffing or budget to physically go after businesses coming into the area. They are. But our EDC works very closely with them. They bring us in if anyone is looking to develop in our area. We have a good working relationship and rely on them in those respects.”

Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs RBA, said he expects to continue the strong relationship with the Tri-Lakes. Draper said the RBA’s creation helped unify the former Colorado Springs chamber and EDC’s shared goals.

“The biggest difference for us now is we speak with one voice,” Draper said. “Before [the chamber and the EDC] were ‘frenemies.’ We shared space but also went after a lot of the same member investors. Now we are under one roof and moving in one direction. My guess is that was the driving force behind their merger.”

‘On fire’

In her new position, Hayes plans to devote about 10 percent of her time to economic development, including retaining and expanding primary employers, those who draw most of their revenue from outside the region.

She added that commercial development in the Tri-Lakes region has leveled off in recent years.

“We’re fortunate, though, in that when a business moves on or retires, it usually doesn’t take too long to fill their space,” she said.

“We have some empty retail as everybody does, but it’s sporadic. That’s good news.”

Housing in northern El Paso County, however, is growing at an accelerated rate.

“Residential is just on fire,” Hayes said. “We have many, many developments being built. As those proceed down the line, more commercial [development] will come.”

Development on the north edge of Colorado Springs, particularly from Interquest Parkway to the Douglas County line, all falls within the purview of the newly merged organization.

“Those are businesses we’ll actively engage,” Hayes said. “And we encourage residents here to go to northern Colorado Springs [for shopping, services and entertainment] rather than Castle Rock. People are beginning to do more things locally and that is fantastic for the county.”

Lilja said an economic zone implemented in January that covers much of the Tri-Lakes region has piqued some interest from potential businesses, but nothing has yet been finalized.

Businesses locating within the zone could see incentives that include tax breaks for capital equipment purchases.

“We’ve had some inquiries, but nothing specific at this time,” Lilja said.

“My prediction is, with the future widening of [I-25 from Monument to Castle Rock], along with an influx of residents from the north, major development is just a matter of time.”