Colorado Springs manufacturers need to talk more and do more to compete for the business of major companies, and promote the city as a capability-rich “one-stop shop” for advanced manufacturing, according to CAMA South manufacturing board member Jay Palace.
“The problem as I see it is we’re not collaborative enough as far as … working together to compete for the companies that are looking to relocate or get satellite offices or have any type of presence in Colorado Springs,” Palace said. “I don’t think we really get our best foot forward out in the world to show what’s really available in Colorado Springs because the manufacturers don’t talk to each other.”
Palace, founder and CEO of Linear Manufacturing, said too many manufacturers don’t understand the capabilities of others in the Springs, so opportunities are missed to collaborate in ways that would capture more business and highlight the city as a hub for manufacturing solutions.
“I’ve done a market analysis [of aerospace as a target market] and talked to Lockheed [Martin] and aerospace companies, and they’re getting all their work done in California and on the East Coast, because they don’t know of anybody capable even in the state of Colorado,” he said.
“We haven’t communicated well enough … to say we can get just about everything done here in Colorado Springs manufacturing-wise. … Awareness needs to be brought up a notch.”
To address the issue, this year’s Southern Colorado Manufacturing Expo will be a summit on collaboration among manufacturers, more than a trade show, Palace said. CAMA South is also working on highlighting each market segment to its members, and building a directory of local manufacturers and their capabilities.
More help is on the way, according to Hannah Parsons, chief economic development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.
In mid-July, the Chamber & EDC will fill a new position: local industry programs manager. The new hire, whose name has not yet been released, will be responsible for creating and building local programs to address the very issues Palace raised, across a range of industries.
“I totally agree with [Palace’s] assessment that we need to have all of [the manufacturers] working together; we need to have a better understanding of who makes what, where they get their parts and all of those supply chain questions,” Parsons said. “I’m excited we will have somebody joining our team to begin that process — and he has a background in manufacturing.”
The local industry programs manager will be tasked with building strong cluster groups and convening programs to understand their work, their capabilities, their synergies and their challenges, Parsons said. (A cluster, in economic development terms, is a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses.)
The new position was budgeted in 2016 and recruitment began in 2017. A hire was due by April but the delay “was worth it to get the right person,” Parsons said.
“We’ll get the person onboarded and roll out some strong plans once we’ve had the opportunity to meet with a lot more manufacturers to hear more about what they want and need to do.”
Parsons said the Chamber & EDC could potentially market jointly, facilitate shows, undertake recruiting efforts and work with manufacturers and local higher education groups on custom training programs.
“There’s a lot of opportunity, so I’m pretty excited about it,” she said.
The new position will also develop the existing relationship between CAMA South and the Chamber & EDC, Parsons said.
Establishing the local industry programs manager position is just one of the plans the Chamber & EDC has for giving Colorado Springs manufacturing and other industries a competitive edge.
As part of its Economic Development Strategic Plan, due for roll-out in August, the Chamber & EDC will release a Competitive Realities Report.
“We have great assets here but we may not have a full understanding of what we’re competing against with other communities, so the Competitive Realities Report will take a look at these industries we want to attract. … It’s one thing to have a good base and to want to attract things, but you have to be really aware of your competitiveness,” Parsons said. “As the Chamber & EDC, we want to be able to come back and talk to all the stakeholder groups, whether it’s city council, the mayor’s office, our commissioners, even the state, and say ‘We want and need to attract these people but we’re not competitive because of x, y or z — so to be more competitive we need to adjust some things.’”
Parsons said the Competitive Realities Report would be “a really strong tool to work on behalf of manufacturers” for a more competitive landscape.
“There’s a lot of improvement needed,” she said. “But I think we’re heading in the right direction.” n CSBJ