The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC hosted an event Wednesday at the Antlers that provided a look into how the organization is attempting to grow the local business community.
A couple of hundred interested people attended, most of them business owners in the region, along with local dignitaries and a few elected officials.
The title of “A City Rising” reflects the optimism that officials at the Chamber & EDC share regarding the future of the business community in the Pikes Peak region.
“The Chamber & EDC is the voice for business in our area,” said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Chamber & EDC. “We advocate for a business-friendly environment in federal, state and local forums.”
He cited five areas that concern the Chamber & EDC: infrastructure [stormwater and transportation], workforce, military, business climate and regulatory environment.
“We serve on task forces and committees across the community as a representative for businesses,” Draper said.
The Chamber & EDC also employs a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and seeks to secure sustainable funding for economic development.
“All we want is more than our fair share,” Draper said, drawing laughs from the audience.
The Chamber & EDC is an organization with 1,100 members, with 95 percent of its funding coming from the public sector and the rest from the city of Colorado Springs, El Paso County and the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.
The Chamber & EDC has developed a five-year strategic economic plan, which includes focusing on three target clusters: sports medicine and related health services; professional, scientific and technology services; and aviation and specialty manufacturing.
“We added a fourth one called experience economics,” said outgoing Chamber & EDC Chief Economic Development Officer Hannah Parsons. “And there are multiple industries in each cluster.”
Tammy Fields, the Chamber & EDC’s senior vice president of economic development, addressed the “experience economics” idea.
“Economic development was driven 25 years ago by corporate real estate decisions,” Fields said. “Today it has to do with the workforce — a quality of place as Millennials call it. That’s what companies are chasing, the Millennials. It used to be the workforce would follow the company, but not anymore.”
Parsons, who will leave the Chamber & EDC at the end of November to become CEO of Exponential Impact, praised her associates at the Chamber & EDC and said, “There is not a more exciting time to be part of the business community in Colorado Springs.”
The Chamber & EDC employed Garner Economics of Atlanta while developing its five-year plan. In a video, Jay Garner, the company owner, said the Springs “has a tremendous number of assets and a limited number of challenges.”
That was in comparison to similar cities such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Reno, Neva., and Boise, Idaho, according to Garner’s study, which said the Springs has 29 assets, seven challenges and 20 neutral issues.
Among the challenges are self-employment income and secondary schools that have a graduation rate of 76 percent, compared with the national average of 83 percent.
Neutral issues include the Colorado Springs Airport, startup firms, income and wages, cost of living and educational attainment.
Assets include population growth, STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees and retail leakage.
Fields said there are three ways to grow jobs: attract new employees, grow new businesses, and by retaining and expanding existing employers.
“Studies say that 85 percent of job growth is homegrown,” said Chamber & EDC Local Industry Manager Yemi Mobolade. “Amazon grew up in Seattle and was supported by the city.”
The Chamber & EDC had its website redesigned by Development Counselors International.
Fields said the No. 1 reason a person may or may not want to come to your community “is a Google click away.”