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Reflections on a local leadership trip to Colorado Springs

Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's Colorado Experience takes professionals to Colorado Springs


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Leaving your day-to-day routine and environment – even if only for 48 hours – can be powerful and eye opening both professionally and personally.

A trip like the May 3 – 4 Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's Colorado Experience allows you to slow down, engage in deep dialogues with local leaders across sectors, demographics, backgrounds and more. You find yourself interacting form dawn until dusk with like-minded men and women who are professionally accomplished and still find time to be civically engaged.

 "You're going to shed assumptions about what you think you know about Colorado," said Kristen Vermulen, Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation's program director, at the kick-off breakfast before two filled-to-the-brim with 93 delegates set off for Colorado Springs.

To start the trip, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO, Kelly Brough, described three pillars of the economy that would be covered during the two-days, deemed "critical:"

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Education
  3. Health and wellness

Echoing these priorities, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne shared that "health is one of those areas we're dogged about," by we, she meant the state of Colorado. Calling herself the chief operating officer of the state, she described her "organization" as a "$29 billion enterprise," and went on to say she is committed to "good government and transparency."

Only 70 miles separate Denver and Colorado Springs, but culturally, industrially, politically and scenically, the two cities feel like dramatically different destinations. 

The bus dropped the 93 Colorado Experience delegates at the United States Air Force Academy for their first stop. Among other speakers at Polaris Hall – home to the Academy's Center for Character and Leadership DevelopmentColorado Springs Mayor John Suthers shared a progress report since taking office some two years ago. He said the local economy added 16,000 jobs, presently has 11,000 job openings and called the unemployment rate "low."

"The cost of living is 21 percent less than Denver," Suthers boasted, describing a segment of the population that has chosen to reside in Colorado Springs and commute to the Denver Tech Center.

Suthers also said that rents are rising and the downtown core has its lowest vacancy rate in roughly two decades, with 3,000 rental units set to come online and the U.S. Olympic Museum breaking ground. 

The Colorado Experience group then broke off into three groups for: a Creative District downtown walking tour, the Discover Goodwill Possibilities tour and a more in-depth tour of the USAFA. Break-out sessions covered subject matter ranging from urban planning to design thinking, cyber security and community engagement.

Sandwiched around the evening's business-to-business reception with Kyle Hybl, COO and general counsel at El Pomar Foundation, was time spent at one of the state's treasured gems, the Broadmoor Hotel.

Thursday's adventures and festivities began with a group discussion on civic DNA, followed by a workshop led by the Center for Creative Leadership, during which team's competed to completed an imaginative puzzle activity.

The crew then traveled to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – the nation's only mountain zoo – where the inner children emerged as they hand-fed giraffes. Over lunch Dr. Liza Dadone talked about ecological sustainability and shared her background in health care, academia, travel and tourism, and energy.

From there, the excursion then broke up into three distinct experiential groups including: a ride on Borealis Fat Bikes along the Legacy Loop; a sustainable entrepreneurship program at the Ivywild School and an active tour of the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"Meeting and learning from communities in Colorado Springs was a great experience," said Nina Sharmaassociate director of Project X-ITE and a delegate on the Colorado Experience. "But the highlight of the program was having two full days to spend with other leaders from Denver – an opportunity that is unparalleled."

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Gigi Sukin

Gigi Sukin is digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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