$3.35M plan to tackle big regional issues nearly funded

Jun 27, 2017 | Uncategorized

The Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce is in the final month of a campaign to raise $3.35 million to tackle big regional issues like workforce development and widening Interstate 25.

Known as Northern Colorado Prospers, this 5-year strategic initiative is the result of interviews conducted last summer with 59 leaders in Northern Colorado. The chamber’s board of directors commissioned an Atlanta-based firm to gauge the level of concern on a number of issues. In order to get unfiltered responses, no chamber staff or volunteers accompanied the consultants.

Among the key findings:

  • One hundred percent of interviewees indicated I-25 is a huge problem. They are right. Left unaddressed, three-hour trips from Fort Collins to Denver will become the norm.
  • The business climate in Fort Collins was cited as a problem by 99 percent of interviewees. The consultants were surprised by how emotional businesspeople were about their interactions with city government. There was also interest expressed in proactively helping key employers stay and expand in the area.
  • Workforce issues and talent shortages were named as a problem by 89 percent of interviewees. Over the next 5 years, there will be a shortage of 5,000 to 9,000 workers in Larimer County.
  • Ninety-one percent of interviewees said the Fort Collins Area Chamber has the credibility to address these issues with 9 percent offering no opinion.
  • Interviewees indicated they would consider investing $3 million to $3.5 million to tackle these challenges.

With those insights, the Board decided late last summer to initiate a $3.35 million fundraising campaign. Planning for the campaign began in September and the public phase of the campaign was announced in early March.

Not surprising based on the issues cited above, the four goals of Northern Colorado Prospers are:

  1. Fix North I-25. This means lobbying to secure the roughly $1.5 billion necessary to widen the interstate to three lanes each way between Longmont and Fort Collins.
  2. Align, attract and retain talent. We rank seventh in the nation in underemployment and yet are facing a 5,000 to 9,000 worker shortage. We have a documented alignment, skills, and labor availability issue.
  3. Be a bold voice of business. Government is important, but overdone it can smother business. This goal is about communicating the inextricable connection between a vibrant economy and our ability to afford great community quality of life amenities.
  4. Expand and retain existing business. Most of the area’s economic growth will occur from retaining existing primary employers.

Kevin Unger, the chamber’s immediate past chair and president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, is leading the campaign. Working with him have been two dozen business leaders.

The response to the campaign has been positive and strong: 84 investors have committed $3.22 million so far. People have said “These are the right issues, and I want to help.”

It would be easy in a place like Northern Colorado to just coast, but leaders recognize there are issues that will harm us if left unaddressed. Through Northern Colorado Prospers they are mobilizing the resources to meet some of the area’s biggest challenges.

Originally published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan on June 25, 2017.