By Erinn Callahan
Colorado Springs is well positioned to both attract new businesses and retain old ones, and Jacob Pruitt is ready to help lead the charge in 2019 as newly elected chairman of the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC board of directors.
“I think the city of Colorado Springs is at a very unique inflection point from a growth perspective, and the chamber is right at the epicenter for the city of Colorado Springs in helping to advance the city and move us in the right direction,” said Pruitt, vice president and general manager for T. Rowe Price’s Colorado Springs site.
As general manager, Pruitt is responsible for executing the asset management firm’s local strategy that includes brand awareness, growth strategy, corporate sponsorships, grant administration, facilities management and local government relations for the 1,000 employees in Colorado. He is the first African-American ever elected chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.
A native of Covington, Tenn., Pruitt earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Tennessee State University before graduating from the Stanford University Business School Executive Management Program. He served in the Marine Corps during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Pruitt and wife Joanna live in Colorado Springs and have five sons. He spoke with the Business Journal this week about the chamber’s goals for 2019, as well as the importance of fostering diversity and inclusion at both T. Rowe Price and in the Colorado Springs business community.
What are your thoughts about being named chairman of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC board of directors?
First of all, it’s an honor to be part of the chamber and the leadership team. There are a lot of great things happening in this city and I think we’re positioned well for business attraction and strong business retention. Given some of the recent media recognition for the chamber — best places to live, things along those lines — I think we’re in a really nice spot for me to step in and hopefully lend some of my experiences. Also, the ability to leverage T. Rowe Price and how we’re positioned here locally, to move things forward — I’m excited about the opportunity.
What’s very unique is that obviously the city of Colorado Springs and the chamber are truly moving in the right direction around diversity and inclusion. Me being the first person of color to lead the chamber in its 100-year history is truly amazing. That gives me a glimpse into where our city is going — the idea that all voices are important and all points of view are important. I think the chamber is on the cutting edge in Colorado Springs in moving that direction.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I look at it from a couple of different angles. No. 1, it’s all about relationships. I understand and know that you have to have good solid relationships to get anything done, whether it be in a corporate setting or even with the chamber — good relationships with the city of Colorado Springs, with our nonprofit organizations, with the broader community and our individual businesses. Relationships are key.
I think the other part of my approach and style is strategy, just really taking a broad look at where we want to go strategically and being able to lay out a vision for the chamber. I think the last piece of that … is leading by example. I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do.
What are your goals for the chamber in 2019?
One is that we want to continue to work closely with the business community, as well as the city of Colorado Springs, in attracting businesses here in the Colorado Springs area. We want to make sure that we’re putting Colorado Springs in the best light outside of the community so individuals understand some of the unique advantages we have to offer. The other piece of that is retention. We have a lot of very unique businesses that have grown up here — small businesses, large businesses. We want to make sure that we’re engaging them in the right way and we retain those businesses.
We’ll partner with K-12 in school districts as well as universities to make sure we have a good pipeline of talent, whether it be for software engineers, nursing — we have to be sure we have a good pipeline as the city grows. That will be a strategic area of focus, and it’s key — to grow that pipeline of talent locally to make sure we can keep pace.
Beyond that is really just making sure that as a chamber, we are engaging the community and listening to the concerns of some of the small businesses as well as large businesses and helping them continue to grow in Colorado Springs.
What are some of the advantages the city can offer businesses?
One is our military. We’ve created a strong concentration of military, whether it be families, opportunities, defense contractors, etc. I think there’s an opportunity to partner with the military to continue to help grow and expand the opportunities within the military. I think also the downtown itself is beginning to grow and advance and open up opportunities for a variety of different individuals. It’s becoming a place where people can come and if they like to play, they like the outdoors, there’s plenty of opportunity there. I think there’s opportunity for small businesses that want to get a start because I think the ecosystem here in Colorado Springs is expanding. The last piece of that — I think the city is open and … willing to consider different points of view and a diverse population.
What are your goals for T. Rowe Price in 2019?
I think the key for our short-term goals is to continue to make sure the existing population here continues to have unique opportunities to advance and grow their careers. We want to make sure that we’re still active in the community from a volunteerism standpoint. Our goal is to be good corporate stewards in the community. Those are the short-term goals. We want to continue that momentum.
We celebrated 20 years in the Springs in November of last year, so we want to preserve that 20 years of history, continue to make sure we’re good solid corporate citizens, and think about the path forward. We want to continue to strategically engage in the community. We want to continue to grow our employee population here in the Colorado Springs area, and obviously continue to engage with our nonprofit organizations to make sure we can assist where there are opportunities to assist.
What are the biggest challenges business owners face in Colorado Springs?
I think some of the biggest challenges for Colorado Springs that impact small businesses and large businesses would be that we’ve got to continue to focus on our infrastructure. I think expanding the I-25 corridor creates unique opportunities for commerce moving between Denver and here. I think that would be a challenge, but I think the city is working to bring that to bear.
The other piece of it is the opportunity to make sure that individuals and businesses outside of Colorado Springs know what we do. They know our brand. I think there are plenty of opportunities to partner with Denver and Colorado Springs and make sure that businesses or large organizations can partner and continue to help grow.
I think probably a long-term challenge is going to be affordable housing for small businesses and individuals that come into the city of Colorado Springs. Those would be things that I think the city is working on — I think there are plans of action around it — but those are challenges I think we need to put our hands around.
What role does the chamber play in helping business owners meet those challenges?
From a chamber perspective, it’s to engage with businesses and understand their concerns and being able to articulate their concerns, whether it be to the city or county, and work as an advocate for business owners in the Colorado Springs area to move things forward. We’re listening to the business community, we’re listening to our members, and we’re working closely with the city, county, the airport authority, to make sure the city understands the business community’s voice.
Where do you hope to see the chamber at the end of your 12-month term as chairman?
I would love to see us continue to expand the attraction and growth of our business community. I would also love to see our existing businesses fully get what they need in regards to resources from an attraction standpoint from the chamber, as well as the broader community. I would love to see Colorado Springs be one of the best places for businesses across not just the Colorado area, but in the country. Our goal is to be No. 1 for business growth and attraction locally and nationally.
As the first person of color to ever lead the chamber, how important is it to help foster diversity in the Colorado Springs business community?
It’s extremely important to me personally, growing up and overcoming barriers and being able to move through corporate America and gain a certain level of success. Along the way, what I’ve recognized is that if you’re willing to approach any situation with an open mind and focus on the relationships and focus on being excellent at what you do, you’ll get to where you want to go.
I think T. Rowe Price embraces that as well. That’s one of our core values. We’ve got four business resource groups set up: Mosaic, which focuses on ethnic diversity; Wave, which focuses on women in leadership; Pride, which is LGBTQ; and one we’re launching here locally that will be a first at T. Rowe Price. It’s called Valor and it’s focused on military veterans — how to onboard them, how to attract them and how to make sure they’re successful in a corporate setting.
I think the team at the chamber is also fully embracing diversity and inclusion, and I think it’s extremely important for the city of Colorado Springs.