Overseas companies are drawn to Colorado Springs’ outdoor lifestyle, quality workforce and vibrant, supportive business community — but its small talent pool and lack of name recognition are setbacks in the competition for international prospects.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to work on — and this is something that companies have told us — is we need help in selling Colorado Springs to potential employee candidates,” said Tammy Fields, senior vice president of economic development for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC. “This is true for U.S. citizens and it goes to another level [internationally] — a lot of people don’t even know where Colorado Springs is.”
The challenge is to build Colorado Springs’ brand and create broader awareness of what the city has to offer. So the Chamber & EDC has launched a talent attraction website — choosecoloradosprings.com — which “helps tell the story about why [employee candidates] would want to live and work in Colorado Springs.”
It’s a good time, Fields says, because the city is “definitely in an uptick,” building a downtown culture and environment very attractive to Millennials.
“I’ve been doing economic development for over 20 years and it used to be that a company would just choose a location, wherever they wanted to go … and the employees would follow them,” Fields said.
“That’s not the way it works anymore. These companies are choosing locations based on where that future workforce is … and Colorado is winning in a big way overall from that factor, because of our outdoor lifestyle. What makes us attractive is our quality of life.
“It’s going to be a whole lot easier for a company to attract talent to Colorado Springs … a beautiful place to live minutes from outdoor activities, mountains, fly fishing, mountain biking, than somewhere in the middle of Kansas..
When Australian startup fusesport chose Colorado Springs for its first U.S. location in 2013, the city’s sports-oriented community sealed the deal.
“Colorado Springs was very much a center of sports business in the U.S., and home to all types of sports organizations,” CEO Chris Clark said from Sydney. “We did a lot of research, talked to people in the sports industry, and there was overwhelming agreement that [Colorado Springs] was where we should set up.”
Clark said the city’s central location was a factor, helping ease the travel and time zone challenges of doing business all over the world, along with the “really business-friendly environment” and “absolutely fantastic” support from the Chamber & EDC.
Clark spent months at a time in Colorado Springs as fusesport set up downtown offices near the U.S. Olympic Committee’s headquarters. The company prioritized community partnerships, joining initiatives to promote economic development and startups. It also attracted strong investment.
“When we arrived in the Springs we raised capital to fuel our growth and I believe it was the largest seed round raised in Colorado Springs history — we raised $1 million,” Clark said. “I think there’s a bit of a false reputation that there’s not much capital or not much willingness for people to invest, but in the Springs… there’s a huge amount of knowledge and capability and passion about sport and tech, and people are very entrepreneurially minded.”
But access to talent has been a hurdle for fusesport.
“People generally in the Springs are of disproportionately high caliber for the size of the population — the problem is there’s just not that many people in the Springs,” Clark said. “So to get a critical mass of population base, to get the volume of talent you need — the cream of the crop — is an issue.”
The company has changed its plans — “originally we thought we would have a single monolithic office in the Springs that would be our main center globally,” Clark said — opting to create a more decentralized structure.
Main product development is once again based in Sydney, in part because its population of 5 million offers “a larger pool of the right technical talent,” and because the Australian government offers a tech development incentive near 43 cents on the dollar.
But Clark says the Colorado Springs location “has been really helpful as that launching pad into the U.S. — it’s really supercharged things,” and fusesport is hiring here as well as at a new location in Washington, D.C.
Debra Herzog, Colorado site manager for multinational business and IT outsourcing company Tek Experts, said the company focused on lifestyle, operating costs and the local pool of talent when it chose to establish its U.S. headquarters in Colorado Springs in 2016.
Herzog said Tek Experts, which began in Bulgaria and has locations in China, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Malta and Vietnam, was drawn to the excellent pool of talent in Colorado Springs.
“We do a lot of our own training so it was about really the quality of people. We are a people company. I can train the technical piece but I can’t train people to care, I can’t train people to be nice — you either want to help people fix a problem, or you don’t,” Herzog said. “In the company we call it ‘the DNA — are you the right DNA?’”
Tek Experts’ location here started with 33 employees in February 2016, and now stands at more than 140.
“We plan on growing to close to 500 in a couple of years,” Herzog said.
“It’s tremendous growth, tremendous responsibility, but it’s super exciting because it’s so many different opportunities …”
But the city’s low unemployment has made hiring a challenge for Tek Experts.
“It’s a good thing for Colorado Springs and a bad thing for Colorado Springs,” Herzog said. “Because we’re very choosy about the employees we hire, our recruiters need to attract employees that are already working. The hiring process becomes a bit more time consuming. … We hire one person for every eight interviews.”
Herzog said she sees an international business community growing in Colorado Springs, particularly with the burgeoning cybersecurity industry attracting more IT companies.
“We feel like we got in at the perfect time,” she said. “Colorado Springs is really up and coming right now with so much growth going on.”