(Editor’s Note: The CSBJ will be providing candidate questions-and-answers to business issues on our website in the days leading up to the election. Tomorrow, hear from state House of Representative candidates, Terri Carver and Julia Endicott.) 

Two candidates are vying for seats for El Paso County Board of Commissioners District 3. Stan VanderWerf is the Republican candidate and Electra Johnson is running on the Democrat ticket. The district encompasses El Paso County on the west side of Interstate 25 from Palmer Lake south to Manitou Springs.

The CSBJ asked business-related questions of both candidates. Their responses are below.

 

ELECTRA JOHNSON

According to her website, Johnson is a partner at Saltworkshop, an urban and architectural design firm. She has a master’s degree in urban design, a master’s degree in architecture, and bachelor’s degrees in construction management and interior design. From her website: “In Colorado, she has written, illustrated and co-authored codes, guidelines and standards for the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Boulder, and developments in Bradburn and Belmar. She was a team member for the Huerfano County Parks and Recreation Master Plan … She has worked in Rocky Mountain National Park developing guidelines and a master plan for the Trail River Ranch Educational Facility.”

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What do you think of the Colorado Springs business climate? What needs to change?

The Colorado business climate is very different than the El Paso County or Colorado Springs business climate.

The El Paso County business climate is 60 percent Department of Defense. It is important that we leverage that investment in our county into a more diversified startup economy based on local business, similar to what is being done at Catalyst Campus. We must focus on local business development because it strengthens our community through our economy. We must also focus on bringing primary jobs into our community that have growth potential and also jobs that support families, so that graduates of our higher education institutions as well as our veterans can stay in our community and contribute. When dollars are made in El Paso County they stay in El Paso County.

 

What issue important to businesses do you plan to tackle if elected?

The homeless issue is both a humanitarian and an economic issue that is impacting our downtown core. Many businesses downtown have lost revenue because our political leaders think that by criminalizing poverty and desperation — instead of finding comprehensive solutions — they will solve the problem. I want to work towards comprehensive solutions in our community similar to what Albuquerque [N.M.] and Salt Lake City [Utah] have done.

 

In your view, what are the top industries in Colorado and how should we attract more and retain the businesses we have?

The top industries in Colorado that will carry us forward are advanced manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, creative industries and startups, defense and homeland security, food and agriculture, tourism, engineering, transportation, technology and the outdoor industry. El Paso County should be leading the state with many if not most of these categories. We need to invest in local business development and capitalize on the intellectual capital that we already have in our region to encourage start up and growth potential. To attract more we must focus on local through economic gardening.  Our community wants the diversity and authenticity that comes from local business development and ultimately keeping money in our communities instead of shipping it off to a global conglomerate strengthens the independence and sovereignty of our community.

 

What can the El Paso County do to support business and economic development?

We need to focus on the local and the uniqueness of our region, by doing this and supporting everything from local foods, local business development, local talent, local intellectual capital we begin to strengthen and develop that which makes our state unique and allows for the type of strength that we need to wean our selves off of global dependence. By switching our lens from the global to the local we strengthen our Colorado economy and bring in jobs that support families that are the basis of the American dream and the American economy. From our food to our energy we must focus on local solutions.

 

What infrastructure is needed to support business development?

A beneficial lens to look through is the criteria that businesses look at when relocating a company and then comparing that lens to what our region offers. For business infrastructure, companies look at quality-of-life indicators from the climate to affordable housing, to the quality of schools. The state of existing infrastructure also plays a role in attracting business, from our roads, to our transit options that are safe, reliable and enjoyable to use. The regional issue in Colorado is water — access to clean reliable water. This is becoming more and more of and issue and will ultimately dictate how our region grows.

 

STAN VANDERWERF

 According to his website, VanderWerf is president and owner of two companies in Colorado Springs. In 2011, Stan founded Advanced Capitol LLC, an aerospace defense consulting firm which helps companies and municipalities win defense/aerospace business and grow aerospace economies. In 2014, Stan created Colorado Springs’ first dedicated 3D printing company called CEM-Tek USA. CEM-Tek helps companies and inventors develop products for use in industries and the consumer markets.

What do you think of the Colorado business climate? What needs to change?

Our business climate has certainly improved over the last few years. This is due to generally improving economic conditions and an increased focus on jobs and economic development. Our nonprofits, like the Regional Business Alliance, have also been improving in performance and this bodes well for our community.

As county commissioner, I will work to increase local wealth, grow quality jobs and provide opportunities for a better quality of life for all of us. I will work on a large range of activities to help grow our businesses. These include:

  • Improved job/skill matching and training with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center
  • Small Business Development work with the Small Business Development Center
  • Improving our transportation infrastructure to increase business efficiency
  • Increasing the efficiency of county decisions in land use policy
  • Increasing our community understanding of the companies we already have
  • Increasing county attention on economic development
  • Reducing homelessness, which is good for both public safety and economic development

I am struck by how many outstanding large and small businesses we have that are not well-known. It may surprise you we have 400 companies working in the aerospace defense market alone and many are absolutely world class. We have top end tourist attractions and hotels and the world’s largest satellite control facility. I believe it’s important to make sure our community knows what great companies we already have.

 

What issue important to businesses do you plan to tackle if elected?

I have several issues I wish to address as county commissioner that will support businesses and growth:

  • Transportation infrastructure
  • Re-vitalization in several areas including downtown, North Nevada, Old Colorado City and several other locations across the county
  • Increased focus on non-traditional industries in our community like micro-breweries, the climbing industry, arts and culture, high-tech research and cyber security.
  • Minimize county interference with business growth and offer appropriate and broader incentives for those businesses
  • Focus on specific incentives and apply them fairly and broadly
  • Work on a broader engagement in economic growth, not just in a broader set of industries, but also regionally to include all municipalities and also unincorporated parts of the county

 

In your view, what are the top industries in El Paso County and how should we attract more and retain the businesses we have?

The top industry in our community is our military bases. As expressed in the statewide report on the Colorado Aerospace Defense market, 44 percent of our local economy relates to this industry. We are fortunate to have our bases and their personnel, but we have a high-risk reliance on this industry.

As such, I intend on working towards broad multi-industry economic development for all of El Paso County. Embedded in this are ideas to continue growth in our traditional industries like defense, tourism and agriculture, but also to accelerate growth in other industries.

These include:

  • Downtown revitalization to include athletic venues and mixed zoning
  • Growth of a drone (UAS) industry to assist in fire detection, agriculture and real estate
  • Continued infrastructure improvements, to include I-25 expansion
  • Local infrastructure improvements like the Rainbow Bridge repair in Manitou Springs, revitalization of West Colorado Avenue between Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs (called No-Man’s Land), and the North Nevada corridor
  • Establishment of a beer brewing school to enhance our share of Colorado’s growing $1.7 billion micro-brewing industry
  • Establishment of a local federal courthouse. We are the largest city in the U.S. without one. Presently all Colorado federal trials go to Denver.
  • Tourism growth across the region to include both our natural environment and arts/culture
  • Efforts to grow a mountaineering industry
  • A university-affiliated research park to grow innovation, academic/business cooperation and commercialization efforts
  • I-25 expansion
  • Discussion of a river walk. Pueblo did it and it may be a great choice for us as well.
  • Commercial cyber security growth
  • Efforts to obtain full funding for our Pikes Peak Summit House
  • Continued support for our Olympic Museum
  • Efforts to get a better broadband capability established
  • Support for a better integrated bike/running trail system with an emphasis on creating Olympic-style venues and lower cost public athletic events
  • Growth in our arts and culture venues
  • Emphasis on reducing homelessness to include the experiment at Springs Rescue Mission

 

What can the state do to support business and economic development?

I would like to see more CDOT projects in El Paso County. I would also like the state to partner with us in providing tax incentives more broadly to grow industries in our community.

 

What infrastructure is needed to support business development?

The simplest and most obvious is transportation infrastructure. I support current efforts to fix our large intersections, the Rainbow Bridge in Manitou Springs, and revitalization of West Colorado Avenue. I also support expansion of I-25 because we have a inefficient transportation system presently between El Paso County and Denver.

I am ready to lead in improving transportation access. We have had long-time challenges in transportation infrastructure in I-25, Highway 24, east-west limited access roads, and an Eastside highway loop, among others.

We need to work together on [Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority] projects and ensure we receive a proper share of CDOT infrastructure dollars.

I am also open to discussions about improvements in public transportation. I would like to study the idea of a trolley line from Downtown Colorado Springs to Manitou Springs. Combined with commuters and tourism, there may be enough ridership to make this self-sustaining. It is important to find viable public transportation venues that will help citizens, but not be long-term tax burdens.