Editor's note: These are snapshots of six articles by business and community leaders who participated in the Denver Metro Chamber Foundation's "Colorado Experience" excursion to Colorado Springs in late April. Read the full versions at www.cobizmag.com.
In April, the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation launched the pilot Colorado Experience program, which brought 140 Denver-area leaders to Colorado Springs for a two-day trip.
We hoped attendees would gain a greater appreciation of state issues and a better understanding of how different cities address their challenges.
While the attendees left with a greater appreciation for our state and our Colorado Springs neighbors, we also saw relationships developing and strengthening as a result of the trip.
Our greatest hope now is that delegates remember what they experienced and encourage others to participate as the Leadership Foundation hosts trips to other destinations in Colorado. There are amazing insights and new friendships to be experienced and gained within a short driving distance inside our state borders.
We don't always have to look across the country to learn how to improve, especially when many of our neighbors have talents and ideas they are more than happy to share.
Tourism a Key Driver in Colorado Springs By Rob LeVine
Tourism, the "invisible industry," has an enormous role in the state's economy - roughly $10 billion per year in direct spending - and yet this economic driver gets little attention, says Doug Price, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
During the session "Tourism's Role in the Pike's Peak Economy," Price spoke about the branding, or the lack thereof, of Colorado Springs, and his desire to create a cohesive brand for the region.
Because we're a "nation of shopkeepers," those in the tourism business need to be more assertive about telling our story, Price said. Although our statewide budget for tourism promotion is OK, that's all it is. With our myriad of attractive assets, and with key competitors thinking about cutting back (such as Texas and Florida), we ought to be pushing down on the pedal.
Ford Frick, managing director of BBC Research & Consulting, spoke about Christo's ambitious proposal to drape some of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City. The Bureau of Land Management's environmental impact statement (EIS) is due out soon and will address the project's myriad of impacts of crowding, traffic, environmental disturbance and more.
Ford said the future of the project weighs heavily on the EIS. Not that it will automatically happen if the EIS is favorable, but a negative report will almost surely kill it. Based on data from a wide variety of Christo's other projects, it's reasonable to expect 400,000 people will come see what Christo describes as a "gentle and temporary disturbance of the landscape."
While it's only meant to be in place for two weeks, it will take far longer than that to assemble. The economic impact has been estimated to be $121 million, and it will draw visitors who might not come to Colorado otherwise.
Rob LeVine is general manager of Antlers at Vail and the chairman of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.
Higher Education Drives Business By Jerry Wartgow
The role and impact of higher education as a key contributor to the economic, social and cultural vitality of Colorado Springs and the surrounding region emerged as a recurring theme throughout the recent Colorado Experience excursion.
From the opening visit to the United States Air Force Academy through the closing luncheon presentation on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, it was clear that higher education was not only highly valued as an economic engine for the area, but also as an integral player and key partner in strategic planning for all aspects of the area's growth and development.
The academy offers 32 different majors and includes 14 research centers and two institutes, which comprise one of the largest undergraduate research programs in the nation.
Through these programs the academy contributes directly to academic, commercial and Department of Energy and Department of Defense projects. In addition, with 4,400 cadets on campus, the Academy contributes more than $780 million in total economic impact in Colorado Springs and surrounding areas each year.
Likewise, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is an economic engine for the area, with a growing student body and an employee base that ranks it as one of the largest employers in southern Colorado. UCCS is one of four campuses of the University of Colorado System (which also includes Boulder, Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus). Its campus was established in 1965 in response to Hewlett-Packard's need to educate and retain the Pikes Peak regional work force.
Ever since, it has been a key player in economic development, by establishing programs and collaborations in response to market needs of the aerospace industry and the many military bases located in the Colorado Springs area. Today, UCCS' 9,000 students and 1,700 employees equate to an estimated annual contribution to the Colorado Springs economy of $310 million.
Jerry Wartgow is the chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver and the Anschutz Medical Campus.
Fort Carson Offers a Glimpse of The Springs' Military Economic Might By Gino Greco
A key part of the Colorado Experience program was an excursion to one of the top military facilities that call the Colorado Springs home. As CEO of the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter, this piece was particularly of interest to me, especially since the American Red Cross has deep roots in service to the armed forces.
A native of Pueblo, I have never had the opportunity to visit and experience Fort Carson. Driving onto the base, I was immediately struck by the sense of community. Absent the fence and the gated entrance we entered through, we could have been pulling into a city suburb. There were homes, an elementary school and a church/chapel.
As we continued through the streets to the location for our briefing, we observed businesses, a movie theater, local banks and stores. But a quick glimpse of soldiers training in a field, helicopters and Humvees left no doubt that we were on 175,000 training acres focused on ensuring America's sons and daughters were prepared for combat. Col. Robert McLoughlin acknowledged that 10 years of war have been taxing on U.S. soldiers and their families and that it was his responsibility to take care of those soldiers and their families. I was quite surprised by his articulation that, as garrison commander, he was strongly aware that Fort Carson's role is to train soldiers for combat, but there is significant importance placed on being a good neighbor. Fort Carson views itself as a "small town next to a city."
I was surprised by the emphasis by the colonel on being a good neighbor to, and part of, the Colorado Springs community. With more than 70 percent of Fort Carson soldiers and their families living off base in Colorado Springs, they are integrated into the life and economics of this beautiful city nestled against the majestic mountains.
And the impact keeps growing as a new aviation brigade is coming to Fort Carson that will generate $700 million in new construction and bring in 2,700 soldiers and 4,000 family members. This brigade alone will likely create an additional 4,000 jobs in the Colorado Springs market, and the ripple effect of that growth will likely reach into the Denver metro area.
Gino Greco is chief executive officer of the American Red Cross Mile High Chapter.
A Vision for Colorado By David Fine
The "Visions for Colorado" plenary session featured Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Kelly Brough, CEO and president of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.
Garcia focused on education, primarily the serious problems with Colorado's pipeline to higher education, which is in turn severely underfunded. Brough picked up the education theme and also briefly touched on the paralyzing tangle of Colorado's constitution.
The facts explain the problem:
Colorado has one of the country's most well-educated work forces, in great part as a result of in-migration;
Yet, Colorado ranks 48 out of 50 in per capita funding for higher education;
Colorado has a 72 percent high school graduation rate;
A large percentage of Colorado-educated students entering college education need remedial help;
At the same time, Colorado is in the grip of a state constitutional tangle, which greatly limits the state's ability to invest in higher education.
The weak pipeline and tenuous funding jeopardize Colorado's ability to attract and maintain dynamic businesses.
Not surprisingly, both the chamber and Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration have made education a central focus. The chamber backed the passage of Senate Bill 191, which made sweeping reform to educator effectiveness evaluation models and moves away from the tenure-based education system.
Led by Lt. Gov. Garcia, the Hickenlooper administration is attacking the remediation problem by focusing on third-grade reading, which studies show is the critical point at which children must move from learning to read to reading to learn.
The success of the initiatives is by no means certain. The administration's third-grade reading initiative must be funded. The reforms of Senate Bill 191 have a greater chance to succeed if teachers will be adequately compensated to operate in the new, riskier paradigm. Access to necessary funding will depend in part on successful partnerships between the administration, and private and nonprofit sectors.
David Fine is a partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and served as city attorney in Denver under then-Mayor John Hickenlooper.
A Colorado Springs Resident's Perspective By Christen Sipsey
As a Colorado Springs resident, it is easy to forget about our local treasures. Peterson Air Force Base - the headquarters for Air Force Space Command - works directly with NORTHCOM and SPACECOM. The mission is to be the leader in space and cyberspace capabilities to assist America's war-fighting commands
The U.S. Olympic Training Center is another unique attraction. Athletes from across the country are selected to prepare for competition at its state-of-the-art training venues. An athlete's primary goal is to perfect his or her sport and represent the United States at the Olympics or the Paralympics.
In addition to the Colorado Experience's onsite tours, experts in numerous fields shared their challenges. A unique challenge for Colorado Springs is obtaining water from sources outside the Front Range. As a solution, the Southern Delivery System was developed and has been in the planning stages for more than 20 years. This project remains controversial primarily due to its cost, which increases utility rates by 12 percent a year over the next six years.
Perspectives from fellow delegates included the surprise of not realizing Colorado Springs was home to three different military installations and the impact these installations have on the Colorado Springs economy. Also, the potential partnerships across the space industry could benefit many communities in Colorado.
Christen Sipsey is vice president at First Bank Colorado Springs.