So. Colorado Business Forum & Digest

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT P. 12 P. 17 Consultants Geek Out on the Arts P. 13 EDUCATION Next-Gen Mobility Poised for Patent ENVIRONMENT Easy Upgrades Can Cure Landscape Water Use Access / Opportunity / Connectivity / Visibility / Insights $4.95 USA / April/May 2024 / Vol. 2 No. 4 HOST YOUR EVENT AT LISTEN TO The Home of The Significance of P. 20 Navigating & Protecting the Final Frontier Start in COS Space Symposium

The Library

Seating up to 25 people


Dirk R. Hobbs


Lee Harper


Christopher Tombaugh


Geraldine Villanueva


Rachael Plath


Pam Bales, Jeanne Davant, Warren Epstein & Wayne Heilman


Olivia Bond, Kim Daly, Emilie Hagopian

Keri Kahn, Kay Rowe & Tiffany Underwood


Sterling McMannis & Angelina Pecoraro


Don Jones - Studio 9 Commercial Photography

In April, the Southern Colorado region welcomed several thousand space professionals, experts and aficionados to the 39th Space Symposium at the Broadmoor Resort. For those in the aerospace industry, this must-attend event is familiar territory in which to network, start conversations, make deals and see/be seen. But for those outside the industries that serve this sector, the gigantic event can look more like an enormous question mark. The Digest sent three staff members to observe, interview and generally listen intently to learn more about how this conglomeration of highly intelligent, intergalactically inclined individuals spends their four days and nights here. When we heard unfamiliar acronyms (often), the topics became too foreign or references were too vague, we asked for clarification. We may or may not have said, “Pretend you’re speaking with a fifth-grader.”

What is compiled in this issue is the result of those interviews, press conferences, presentations, and follow-up phone calls and emails. It is our best attempt to explain the hard-to-explain, from one outside observer to another.

And while this region is known for its strong economy in aerospace, defense, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing, it’s important to recognize the many other sectors that contribute to the its region’s success. From tourism and hospitality to professional and financial services, healthcare, and the arts and entertainment industries, countless

businesses support the area’s overall economic growth. There are three small businesses spotlighted in this issue, all from different industries.

With its natural beauty and mild climate, Southern Colorado continues to be a top destination for those in the sporting realm also. With the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee headquarters, 25 National Governing Bodies, and world-class facilities, it’s no surprise that the region attracts countless NCAA, professional, and amateur sporting events. The COS Sports Corporation — whose myriad of events bring thousands of visitors to the area — as well as collegiate and professional sports teams and conferences are driving this sector forward, and we look forward to showcasing their work in the May edition.

Thanks for reading and sharing, / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 4
Salem Media AM1460/101.1FM The So. Co. Business Forum & Digest audio version can be heard on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Google Play. So. Co. Digest is also distributed to the Business Wire and Apple News+. The Business Digest Weekly radio show can be heard on AM1460/101.1FM The Answer — a Salem Media channel on Fridays at 3:00PM MST, then on podcast anytime. Business Digest Minutes can be heard daily between 7AM and 9AM, and 3PM and 5PM on AM1460/101.1FM Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest is published by and is the exclusive property of Colorado Media Group, Inc. a registered S-Corporation in the State of Colorado. All naming conventions, derivatives, and the ampersand are the sole property of Colorado Media Group, Inc. The Digest is a secondary trade name for this medium. Corrections, Questions, or General inquiries for the Editor or Publisher, email: Advertising or Press Release: Mail: 13395 Voyager Parkway, Suite 130, PMB 746 – COS, CO 80921 Main Offices: 6385 Corporate Drive, Suite 200 – COS, CO 80919 Subscription information: Available soon. Copyright © 2023 Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest All Rights Reserved. Publisher’s Letter Partial listing of sports entities, events May 20, 2024 | 5:30 pm | Notes Bar Business Casual | RSVP Required | Appetizers/Cash Bar EVENT SPONSORS: So. Colorado Business Digest Presents Sports Economy of the Pikes Peak Region Megan Leatham Chief Executive Officer Colorado Springs Sports Corporation Jon Mason Vice President Strategic Communications U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee EXECUTIVE PRESENTATIONS BY

Contents / April/May 2024

The U.S. Air Force Academy is nearing completion of a ground breaking project that may revolutionize mobility. P. 13


9 COS Gets Doggie Daycare Replacement

Hank’s K9 Social Club provides grooming, boarding, training and socialization for the area’s canine companions. BY PAM BALES

9 I Heart Mac & Cheese Opens in Pueblo West

This little shop south of town helps customers with their sugar and caffeine needs, featuring locally sourced products and a small town atmosphere. BY TIFFANY UNDERWOOD

31 Building a Dental Practice that Tears Down Fear

Using technology, training and time, for years Pine Creek Dental has put courtesy toward patients at the top of their to-do list. BY KERI KAHN


10 HOA Leads Push for Legislative Reform

A statewide housing industry coalition wants to rework SB 106 and add a second piece of legislation. The potential impact would reach lawyers, insurers, builders — and more so, homeowners BY JEANNE DAVANT


10 Creek Plan Launched for America the Beautiful Park

A bold initiative is underway to reimagine the downtown park into a place for tourists and residents alike. Read about the plan.


17 Easy Upgrades Can Curb Landscape Water Use

Irrigation audits, equipment rebates, and monitoring devices are available to business owners with landscape concerns. Colorado Springs Utilities makes conservation less painful with numerous programs.



12 Consultants Geek Out on the Arts

TRG may not be well-known locally but the arts management organization is renowned around the country for its ability to improve and refine some of the finest arts groups.


28 Lulu’s Moves from Downstairs to Downtown

The popular live music venue has entertained legions of fans for years. Owner Marc Benning aims to reproduce that success downtown, with a few tweaks to the original plan.



13 Next-Gen Mobility Poised for Patent

An Air Force Academy Capstone project could change lives of wheelchair users. The assistive technology design took years of expertise from multiple teams.



16 Development Incentives Pay Off in Jobs, Economic Growth

The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC orchestrate and refine strategic contracts to entice businesses to expand or relocate to the area. Read about how these efforts reward the city and its workers.


29 Economic Development through the Eyes of Jessie Kimber

Colorado Springs’ new development go-to person is no rookie to the progress landscape. Read about Kimber’s attention to balancing the city’s infrastructure, education, and workforce…and more.



20 Global Space Community Unites in Colorado Springs

Thousands of people from around the world take over the Broadmoor every spring. But not everyone understands the depth and breadth of the conversation happening there. Take a closer look at Space Symposium.

23 Leaders in Space Industry Launch Space4All

A new public awareness initiative kicked off in early April but it’s still under the radar. Learn more about this campaign to get millions of workers into space jobs before it’s too late. #space4all BY LEE HARPER


25 Occupation Data Highlights Unique Region Characteristics

This month’s Economic Forum discusses how the region’s industry dictates job availability and how it compares to other areas of the country.


5 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest
U.S. Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley
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Updates From Around the Region

Colorado Springs

500 New Jobs Coming to COS

At an April 24 press conference, Omni Federal, with the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, announced its plans to expand.

The company provides modern engineering and digital transformation solutions for several sectors of the government. Omni Federal has invested $400,000 in a new office and related technology and an additional $800,000 is anticipated to support further development of Omni Labs.

The announcement detailed the expectation of more than 500 new jobs at an average annual wage of $150,000, which is 238% of the average annual wage in El Paso County. The positions will include ground station, systems, software, and network engineers, data scientists, and security analysts, among others.

Omni has been growing rapidly and has matured into a midsize company with a broad portfolio of capabilities and clients. The company has a significant presence in Washington D.C., St. Louis, Missouri, San Antonio, Texas, and Montgomery, Alabama.

Omni selected Colorado Springs due to the region’s strong presence in the aerospace, defense, and technology sectors, its pool of highly skilled space engineering professionals and to be near Omni’s Air Force and Space Force clients.

The company expects to secure $550 million in prime contracts in space, defense, and technology sectors, stimulating growth across various industries, and benefiting local businesses, suppliers, and service providers. The company is also looking at future expansion, in the next two years, for needed integration and test facilities along with a new Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCFI).

Pueblo & El Paso

Small Business Grants


Comcast announced 100 comprehensive grant packages to be awarded to businesses in Southern Colorado. Each package will include business coaching sessions, education resources, a $5,000 monetary grant, creative production and technology makeovers. The program, called Comcast RISE, is committed to supporting the growth of all small businesses, while advancing the objectives of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as community investment.

“Comcast is committed to supporting and empowering small businesses in our communities,” says J.D. Keller, senior vice president of Comcast’s Mountain West Region.

Comcast RISE was created in November 2020 to help small businesses hardest hit by COVID-19, from bakeries and barber shops to childcare centers and cleaning services, through grants needed to survive and recover. The program has evolved from helping businesses survive the pandemic, to helping businesses and their communities thrive with a focus on economic growth.

From May 1 through May 31, eligible businesses in Pueblo and El Paso counties can apply for a grant package at See the website for more information, including FAQs.

Fremont & Custer Plan for Mud and Methane

Former chemistry professor turned entrepreneur, Chris Caskey, is pioneering efforts to combat methane emissions while revolutionizing tile production through his company, Delta Brick & Climate Company.

Focused on mitigating methane leakage from defunct Colorado coal mines, Caskey’s solution involves controlled burning of methane gas to convert it into less harmful carbon dioxide, thus directly addressing the pressing issue of greenhouse gas emissions.

Recognizing methane’s potency as a greenhouse gas, 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, Caskey’s approach not only reduces environmental harm but also generates carbon offset credits, offering a dual benefit of environmental stewardship and financial gain.

Moreover, Caskey envisions leveraging local resources by transforming sediment from nearby creeks into clay for ceramics manufacturing, producing tiles, bricks and pavers. This innovative approach aligns with Caskey’s ambition to merge methane reduction with tile production, aiming to power kilns with controlled methane gas burning.

In an interview with CPR reporter Sam Brasch, Caskey says, “This methane problem can become a solution to multiple things. The coolest thing, I think, is the ability to stack on benefits to create a large amount of impact really quickly.”

The Colorado Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program has inventoried more than 2,800 hard rock abandoned mines with over 10,000 hazardous openings on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

7 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest

Regional Professional Business Organization Links & Events

BBB of Southern Colorado

Castle Rock Chamber

Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC

The Colorado Springs Black Chamber

Colorado Springs Hispanic Chamber

Downtown Colorado Springs Partnership

The Greater Pueblo Chamber

Latino Chamber of Commerce of Pueblo, Inc.

Pueblo Economic Development Corp.

Royal Gorge Chamber Alliance

Colorado SBDC - Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center

Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber

Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Visitor Center

Trinidad & Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 8

Small Business Spotlights

Colorado Springs Gets Doggie Daycare Replacement

Hank’s K9 Social Club held its grand opening in February 2024 in the old Bam Paws Doggie Daycare space, near Weidner Field.

“Downtown is becoming more densely populated with new apartments and visiting tourists,” notes co-owner Robert Tunink. “We feel there is a huge need for doggie daycare in our city. Our fur babies are so important to us; we wanted to provide a quality facility for care, fun and social enrichment.”

The Social Club’s namesake is Robert and Tracy Tunink’s rescue dog, Hank. “We rescued him when he was six months old from a life in a small kennel and a bark collar,” explains Robert. “He is the best and we love him so much. We were as lucky as he was when he found us.”

In addition to daycare, Hank’s K9

Social Club offers a 1500-square-foot training facility, boarding facilities with 10 “swanky hotel suites,” 23 standard kennels and grooming options.

“Daycare is good for your dog’s socialization,” says Tracy Tunink.

“It relieves separation anxiety; your dog is safe with supervised play and

I Heart Mac & Cheese

Opens in Pueblo West

Asecond location of I Heart Mac & Cheese announced its highly anticipated grand opening in Pueblo West last month. The first location is in Colorado Springs. The Pueblo West restaurant is owned and operated by Kerry Mand, a prominent figure in the local business community. Mand also manages commercial and residential real estate in the area, including Monument Plaza Laundry. The grand opening celebration for the new location offered the first 25 paying customers free mac and cheese for an entire year.

I Heart Mac & Cheese has garnered acclaim for its innovative approach to

fast-casual dining, offering a diverse menu of made-to-order macaroni and cheese bowls, grilled cheese sandwiches and an array of healthconscious options. According to the I Heart Mac & Cheese website, “Our menu features chef-developed signature items and a build your own selection with options for everyone!”

From the indulgent Lobster & White Truffle Mac & Cheese to the classic comfort of Buffalo Blue Mac & Cheese, the menu caters to diverse tastes. Health-conscious patrons and those with dietary restrictions also have options, including vegan grilled cheese. Guests can further personalize their meals with a variety of proteins, vegetables, cheeses and dressings, including vegan, gluten-

to four dogs for boarding per night. The club also has room for boarding cats as well. The minimum age for dogs to attend is 22 weeks.

“We are getting new clients on a daily basis and enjoy meeting all the owners and their pets,” says Robert.

exercise. We truly believe it provides peace of mind for the owners, too.”

Hank’s K9 Social Club offers fullday care for $35, half-day care for $28 and by-the-hour care at $8 per hour.

Pet owners can stop in any time for a tour of the facility. Right now, Tunink says the facility averages between 10 to 12 dogs a day for daycare and three

The Best of Both Worlds grilled cheese, served with slow- cooked short rib and a blend of cheddar cheeses.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: HANKSK9SOCIALCLUB.COM, or call 719-471-2275 or stop in at 815 S. Sierra Madre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.

free and plant-based choices.

I Heart Mac & Cheese was founded in South Florida in 2017 by CEO and Chairman Steve Giordanella. Since then, the brand has rapidly expanded into a national franchise, earning accolades such as recognition by Entrepreneur magazine as a “Top 100 Best Growing Franchise.”

With more than 45 restaurants currently operating across the U.S. and additional locations slated to open in 2024 and 2025, the franchise’s commitment to delivering consistent,

delicious and customizable meals continues to resonate with patrons nationwide.

Tiffany Underwood is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

9 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest
Photos courtesy of I Heart Mac & Cheese Pam Bales is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

Urban Land Development Creek Plan Launched for America the Beautiful Park

At America the Beautiful Park, beaches offer direct access to Monument and Fountain Creeks, where water sports enthusiasts launch stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and tubes. Along the banks, people cast fishing lines into the water. Others relax and watch watersports on terraces, a boardwalk and plaza, or congregate on the enhanced lawn for festivals and events.

A central water recreation point like this for Downtown Colorado Springs is envisioned in the Colorado Springs Creek Plan, and it is the first of five specific projects to get underway.

The overall plan may take 20 to 25 years to complete, but this first effort could be implemented in the next few years, says Chris Lieber, principal at N.E.S. Landscape Architects and Creek Plan project manager on behalf of Pikes Peak Waterways, the nonprofit organization that is championing the

project. Colorado Springs Utilities is also a partner in the plan.

The city of Colorado Springs has contracted with Greenwood Villagebased Merrick Engineering to create a preliminary design for America the Beautiful Park, Lieber says. In addition to envisioning recreational facilities, the firm will explore the possibilities of expanding the waterways, enhancing the riparian habitat and improving water quality by pretreating stormwater that flows into the creek.

“America the Beautiful Park is kind of a front door to our downtown,” he says.

The original 1990s master plan for what was then known as Confluence Park called for the removal of a berm that separates the park from the water.

“For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen,” Lieber says. “In some ways, we’re resurrecting some of the good planning and design that was envisioned back then.”

One of the plan’s goals is supporting the region’s economy.

In other communities, investment in greenway improvements has increased values of commercial and residential properties within a halfmile of the waterways, Lieber says. He cites Denver’s Greenway along the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, where adjacent property values are 36% higher than properties further away. Such amenities also entice tourists to stay a little longer, benefiting retail and hospitality businesses and the region’s overall economy.

Lieber says he expects the preliminary design to be completed

next year, after which the project will move to specific design, public engagement and fundraising.

HOA Leads Push for Legislative Reform in Affordable Housing Battle

Housing experts agree that one reason for Colorado’s deficit of affordable, attainable and available housing is the Construction Defect Action Reform Act, adopted by the Colorado Legislature in 2001. A consequence of the act, which was

intended to help homeowners get construction issues remedied, is the halting of affordable “missing middle” and entry-level housing construction because of class action lawsuits.

The Homeownership Opportunity Alliance (HOA), a bipartisan, statewide coalition of leaders with interests in the housing industry, was formed in 2017 to change this trend. The organization’s members include

builders, contractors, economic development organizations and chambers of commerce and building trade associations.

The alliance is now lobbying on behalf of SB24-106, which opens up pathways for homeowners to get defects fixed other than having to join class action lawsuits, says HOA Cochair Dave Davia.

The original Colorado law

subjected builders to costly and time-consuming lawsuits that could stem from a minor defect in a single unit. These lawsuits caused insurers to greatly increase rates, and as a result, the number of active condo developers in the state has fallen 84% since 2007, according to information compiled by the HOA. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 10
Rendering of America the Beautiful Park. Jeanne Davant is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

“We got part of the solution in 2017,” Davia says. That year, legislators passed HB 1279, which requires boards of homeowners’ associations to get approval from 51% of unit owners before initiating a construction defect lawsuit. The same year, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that homeowners cannot remove contract clauses requiring arbitration for construction defects, or the process of coming to agreement to prevent a claim advancing to a lawsuit.

After that, permits for attached housing grew from 2% to 8% of total permits — but that figure in a healthy housing market should be 20% to 25%, Davia says, and more recently, the percentage has declined again.

“We got back together after the last legislative session and said, ‘What do we need to do to fix this?’” he says. For the past nine months, the HOA has been working on SB 106, which:

• Creates a right for a construction professional to remedy a claim, either by doing the work or hiring someone to do it, and upon diligent completion is deemed to have settled the claim for that particular issue;

• Requires that claims seeking damages for building code violations must result from actual loss of use or damage to property or result in injury or death, or create an “imminent or unreasonable” threat to life, health or safety;

• Requires the written consent of at least 60% of unit owners to bring a claim or related action.

The bill, which is opposed by the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, was under consideration in the legislature at The Digest’s press time.

“It’s our intention to see this bill through passage and signage,” Davia says. “The governor and his team have been engaged, and we’re hopeful that what gets through the legislative process earns his support.”

Davia, who is also president and CEO of Colorado Concern, a nonprofit organization that seeks to increase the state’s competitiveness in the business realm, says passage of SB 106 “gets us about 60% down the field. There’s still more work to do.”

While the organization has gotten positive feedback from the insurance industry suggesting that the bill will make a difference, “we’d want to see that work,” he says.

The HOA is tracking other legislation and will oppose another bill before the legislature this year: HB24-1230, titled Protections for Real Property Owners.

According to the HOA website, the bill “is a step backwards and away from attainable housing.” Concerns with the bill include provisions that:

• Make it a violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act to obtain or attempt to attain a waiver of limitation that violates current law;

• Require courts to award prejudgment interest on residential property construction claims, in addition to actual damages;

• Increase the time during which a claim can be brought from six to 10 years and change the date on which claims begin to accrue;

• Void provisions in real estate contracts that prohibit group lawsuits;

• Prohibit HOA governing documents from setting different or additional requirements for construction defect actions than those in current law.

These provisions would incentivize more lawsuits and drive up housing costs, the HOA says.

House Bill 1230 is still under consideration.

Jeanne Davant is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

11 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest CONTINUATION FROM P. 10 HOA Bringing great companies and top talent together Financial Talent Group, your premier Talent Solutions Agency in Colorado. Specializing in Finance & Accounting, Administrative, & Executive Search 719-217-4062 |

Consultants Geek Out on the Arts Arts & Entertainment

They don’t appear on any stages. You won’t see them on a glowing marquee.

Yet, among many arts organizations around the world, the team at Springs-based TRG Arts are superstars.

TRG Arts (The Results Group for the Arts) was founded in Colorado Springs and has had offices in the United Kingdom and Canada. It has consulted for more than 1,200 domestic and international arts organizations, helping to fill seats and raise money for the Lincoln Center, the Australian Ballet, the Nottingham Playhouse, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and even — on their home turf — the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC).

“Our work with TRG resulted in increasing the rate of subscribers who renewed, and helped us create more earned revenue by investigating and implementing dynamic pricing,” says Scott RC Levy, the FAC theater’s former artistic director and now executive director for Green Box Arts in Green Mountain. “I have been inspired by their work for almost 20 years,” Levy continues. “Whether through sessions at conferences or dedicated one-onone projects, they are simply the best and most thorough consulting agency working to better arts organizations throughout the world.”

“Definitely impressed with their work,” echoes Gwen Pappas, vice president for communications and PR at the Minnesota Orchestra. “Our marketing team is thrilled with the collaboration.”

TRG CEO Jill S. Robinson, originally from Fort Wayne, Indiana, began her foray into arts marketing while working for the Milwaukee Symphony. In the ’90s, she briefly collaborated with arts consultant Rick Lester, a rare data geek in an industry filled with creative types who get triggered by spreadsheets.

“We were sort of kindred spirits,” Robinson recalls. “We were both ROIfocused in a field that wasn’t focused on ROI.”

Those early collaborations led to

a partnership that became TRG in Colorado Springs, with contemporary offices in the Wells Fargo Tower. In 2000, before CRMs (Customer Relationship Management Systems) were developed and grew into widespread use, Lester and Robinson started putting the data sets together that would move arts organizations forward.

“From the beginning, I guess the idea was, how do we help arts organizations around the country and the world,” she says.

They expanded their work to include other arts and cultural genres.

“There weren’t a lot of consultants back then,” Robinson says. “And so the ballet people said, ‘Oh, you don’t have any ballet experience. You can’t possibly help us.’ ”

But they did help. They evaluated the typical structures of arts organizations. The folks selling tickets often didn’t even talk to the folks raising donations.

“We began to say, ‘OK, what if we joined up that ticketing data that was in Artsoft and Ticketmaster and all these ticketing systems that the field was using with the fundraising data that was in Raiser’s Edge and other philanthropically oriented systems?’” says Robinson.

That approach helped them annihilate silos and establish themselves as early players in the game of customer retention. They began to build what they called

“patron loyalty indexes.” The goal was to move “tryers,” those who might go to a single performance, to become “buyers,” or subscribers, and then on to “advocates,” who would do the heaviest philanthropic lifting.

They built extensive customer databases that would look at crossovers between organizations and point to opportunities for growth. That work helped build TRG into a $6 million organization with 40 employees. In 2013, when CEO Lester died suddenly (during a cycling fundraiser), Robinson took the helm.

Soon after, the pandemic devastated the entire arts and cultural sector in the spring of 2020. TRG got an investment boost from Blue Cypress, a conglomeration of businesses promoting “conscious capitalism.”

Being data geeks, TRG conducted a survey of the damage, while their clients went dark and looked for ways to survive via Zoom performances and public assistance. They created the industry’s largest global consumer dataset, the COVID-19 International Sector Benchmark, which the firm continues to offer free to the sector (now called the Arts & Culture Benchmark). Nearly 500 organizations contribute data and Robinson says that number continues to grow.

They found that, after the pandemic hit in 2020, income, tickets and individual philanthropy fell 80% in just nine months. TRG, like so many,

closed their offices and went remote, communicating by video. They never re-opened the offices; Robinson saw that shift in investment from office rent to staffing as a positive.

“A good chunk of the team doesn’t live in Colorado,” she says. “Because we’re international, we’d been working, in some part, remotely all along. And it actually helps our culture to go remote. The remote team never fully felt a part of the Colorado team and vice versa. Now, as everybody’s remote, we’re breaking down those barriers.”

The recovery of the arts sector has been a mixed bag, with arts and culture venues in different parts of the world bouncing back at different speeds and different ways.

“The pandemic helped us see that market and customer expectations are high,” she says. “The conversation is essential. But it can’t be a oneway conversation. People want to be listened to. They want to be heard. You must engage about other things they might enjoy, and ‘Oh, by the way, we heard you. The parking situation stinks and we’re working on it.’”

As arts organizations rediscovered their post-pandemic audiences, changes emerged: younger, more diverse audiences may appreciate traditions but also are hungry for new experiences. In a recent TRG podcast, Robinson interviewed directors of Princeton University Concerts about their use of classical music with meditation and their Healing with Music series.

“I’m seeing more interest in experimentation than ever,” Robinson says. “I hope it sticks.”

Warren Epstein is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 12

Cultural Office Presents LEVEL UP!

The Cultural Office is proud to present LEVEL UP! Creative Professionals Night, the first creative-sector focused resource fair in the Pikes Peak region. On Wed., May 8th from 4:00-7:00 pm, you are invited to the Ent Center for the Arts for an evening of resources, business support, mentoring, education, and more! Tickets are free, with a suggested donation of $10, though registration is required.

This event was developed based on community feedback to connect artists to business resources and create a dedicated professional development evening for the creative community. COPPR Board President Krithika Prashant says, “The creative community in the Pikes Peak region is growing and changing, and the Cultural Office wants to respond to their evolving needs. Through LEVEL UP! we believe all creatives will find something to enhance their practices, whether that’s a business mentor, funding or community connection.”

The evening will be full of opportunities for creatives, nonprofits, and businesses alike. The schedule is as follows:


• 4:00-5:00 pm, Business Fair featuring over 20 different organizations; Free Headshot Booth by Kira Whitney Photography; and Mentoring Areas

• 5:15-6:15 pm, Educational Panel Session: “Social Impact and the Arts: Moving with Market Forces.”

Keynote Speaker, Jonathan Liebert, CEO at the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and founder of the

Next-Gen Mobility Poised for Patent

By focusing on user needs and leveraging technological advancements, a team of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy is nearing completion of a groundbreaking project that may revolutionize mobility: a wheelchair controlled by eye movements. Pending a patent, the innovative technology has the potential to not only improve independence for countless individuals but also enrich the Department of Defense.

The five-year Capstone effort by the Academy’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering utilizes eye-tracking software and integrates it with a wheelchair’s control system. Users can navigate the chair by directing their gaze toward desired destinations.

Southern Colorado Impact Group, will discuss critical, current considerations for creative organizations and businesses who have a social impact, and interview local creative business leaders for on-the-ground perspectives!


 Peri Bolts, Founder and CoOwner of Eclectic CO  Lorrie Myers, Co-Founder of Who Gives A Scrap

• 6:15-7:00 pm: Networking Reception with Mentoring Circles by Bee Vradenburg Foundation, SCORE, and Non-Book Club Book Club


13 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest
Arts & Entertainment
 Terry Josiah Sharpe, CEO of Anthem Music Enterprises
The five-year Capstone effort by the Academy’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering utilizes eye-tracking software and integrates it with a wheelchair’s control system.
Air Force

Mobility Patent

USAFA Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Cadets conduct the latest test of a gaze-assisted wheelchair, their assistive technology Capstone project.

Brian Neff leads the department. He says work began in 2019 with early reverse-engineering, and a Class of 2020 cadets continued it during the COVID-19 shutdown. In 2021, senior cadets became the first complete Capstone team to work on the project, followed by the classes of 2022 and 2023. This year, when Cadets 1st Class Cade Isley, Lucas Jones, Ameen Khan, Luke Ringe and Sam Smith graduate, their names will be attached to the paperwork for the project’s patent.

From 3D design and electronics integration to coding, software and consideration of human factors, each cadet brought his individual discipline and expertise to the assistive technology team.

“The primary contribution this group of cadets made is twofold,” Neff says. “First, they refined the previous prototypes. They took the things that worked and refined them so that they are repeatable and usable even in an uncontrolled environment. Second, they redesigned the control interfaces, based off their experiences with video games. They have used some of that methodology to design a completely new control interface that is much more usable.”

Once the cadets complete their work this semester, the wheelchair prototype will benefit someone who needs it. “The one thing about this project that was very unique is that we can give something to somebody at the end of our time working with it,” Khan says. “That was very appealing to me.”

One day, adds Neff, it may provide an “eyesight-alone” mechanism for pilots, ground vehicle controllers or operators of any complex military system.

Daly is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

COS WE CARE. JOIN THE CREW. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 14
U.S. Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley Kim

Professionals on the Rise

Celebrating Achievement of So. Colorado’s Workforce!

United States Air Force Academy Cadets Second Class Kelsey Monaghan-Bergson (left) and Sophia Stewart (right) have both been named by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation Board of Trustees. The juniors from the Academy’s Class of 2025 were named among 60 Truman Scholars selected from 709 applicants. The cadets are the only scholars named who attend a Military Service Academy, they represent three percent of all 2024 selectees and the Academy is one of six nominating institutions with multiple Truman Scholars named in 2024.

announced that Mark Dunsmoor (left) and Andrew Trainor (right) received the Bankers of Distinction award from The Colorado Bankers Association. This award honors bankers and community leaders for going above and beyond in the spirit of dedication to and in support of activities vital to the communities they serve.

Economic Development Businesses Expand in Pueblo County Through RJS Program

The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum named Michael O’Conor as its chief growth officer. With more than two decades of experience in sports sponsorship and business development, O’Conor joins the USOPM after serving as principal of The O’Conor Agency, supporting commercial marketing initiatives and cultivating partnerships for clients including USA Swimming, The National Thoroughbred League, and USRowing.

Melanie Stricklan was named the inaugural executive director of Space Workforce 2030, an initiative under the auspices of Space Foundation. The first-of-its-kind collaborative effort is designed to build an inclusive workforce to meet the burgeoning demands of the space industry.

Professionals on the Rise is The Digest’s newest feature to highlight those people in Southern Colorado who are doing big things. Promotions, new hires and outstanding accomplishments should be recognized. Do that here for the standouts in your organization. Shout it from the rooftops (or at least the laptops).

Email with details (up to 40 words) and a photo of the esteemed.

Governor Jared Polis, with the Business Funding & Incentives Division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade (OEDIT), unveiled the pioneering participants of the Rural Jump-Start (RJS) program in Pueblo County. The participants include AMCON Distributing Company, Ask Oracle, and Fomcore. These businesses will create dozens of full-time positions above

the county’s average annual wage.

“Pueblo is an important part of Colorado’s economy, and we are thrilled to welcome these businesses to the area,” says Gov. Polis. “Colorado is the best place to live, work, and do business, and through the Rural JumpStart program these businesses will create 59 new good-paying jobs for Coloradans and continue driving our economy forward.”

15 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest People

Economic Development Development Incentives Pay Off in Jobs, Economic Growth

When Colorado Springs and El Paso County economic development officials learned that high-tech supplier Entegris was considering Colorado Springs as the site for a $600 million manufacturing center of excellence, they worked with the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and Colorado Economic Development Commission to put together a $115 million incentives package that helped win the project.

That package included Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone tax credits, Urban Renewal Authority tax increment financing, rebates applied to infrastructure and development fees and a contribution from the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC Deal Closing Fund.

That might sound like a handout, but every local incentive offered to Entegris and other companies looking to relocate or expand here is performance-based — tied to and contingent upon specific criteria such as the number of new jobs created, number of employees enrolled in an employer-sponsored health plan, capital investment, research and development and other anticipated contributions to the region’s economy.

In the case of Entegris, it’s anticipated that the project will create 600 new jobs with an average annual wage of more than $70,000 in its first phase, plus more than 4,000 construction jobs during the building phase, according to the Pikes Peak URA summary of the project; its overall local economic impact could amount to $2.5 billion over the next five years.

Cutting taxes and red tape

Colorado Springs offers rebates that amount to half of the city’s 2% sales tax on the purchase of construction materials, machinery and equipment for approved projects,

says Jessie Kimber, Colorado Springs economic development director.

The city also offers a rapid response program, which assigns a staff member to help manage development processes like land use applications, permitting, building and fire inspections and certificates of occupancy.

“We can cut the time down by about 50%,” Kimber says, “and for a lot of companies, that’s very attractive.”

The city chooses to do that rather than awarding cash incentives, as some other cities do, Kimber says. Other performance-based incentives to qualify include — a company must be a primary employer; hire 10 or more employees; pay them salaries higher than the El Paso County average wage; and make a capital investment of at least $1 million.

“The company needs to provide documentation after they pay their taxes and apply for a rebate. If they don’t have the number of personnel

they said they were going to hire — if they don’t make the investment — they don’t qualify for the incentive,” Kimber says. “It’s no risk to the city taxpayer.” In fact, Kimber says, rather than drawing funds away from other budget priorities, “it grows the city budget.”

Location-based incentives

Companies that locate within the Pikes Peak Enterprise Zone or Commercial Aeronautical Zone at the Colorado Springs Airport are eligible for performance-based tax credits and rebates, says Crystal LaTier, executive director of the El Paso County Economic Development Department. The department administers the Enterprise Zone on behalf of the state for El Paso and Teller Counties.

The El Paso department also administers a revolving business loan fund, created in the 1990s, with federal funding. Used primarily by

smaller businesses, it offers lowinterest loans of $5,000-$50,000 to expanding businesses, LaTier says. The fund is self-sustaining and replenishes through earned interest and loan paybacks. Like the other county incentives, no taxpayer funding is involved.

LaTier says she always talks to business prospects about the county’s Turnkey Plus program, which provides forgivable loans that qualified home buyers can use for down payments or closing costs.

“We like to highlight that program for the employees of businesses,” she says. “We want them to become part of this thriving community.”

The roles of the city and county don’t stop once a company has agreed to relocate or expand.

“We care about making sure these companies are successful,” Kimber says. “We work to ensure that any company looking to come to Colorado Springs is introduced to this entire ecosystem of support — everything from incentives to connecting them to workforce and talent, to all that kind of wraparound support that the Chamber and EDC can bring.”

LaTier says conversations with Entegris are ongoing.

“We are ensuring that there’s timely response to their planning and land use questions,” she says. “We tend to touch base about once a month about their workforce development efforts and how are they partnering with the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and local educational institutions, so that we can help build that pipeline of individuals that have the skills needed to do the type of work that their businesses do.”

“That continued coordination isn’t just, ‘We won the project — it’s all great,’” she says. “Now the hard work begins, and how do we ensure that this business is supported and, most importantly, supports the residents of our area?” / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 16
Jeanne Davant is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

Easy Upgrades Can Curb Landscape Water Use

An attractive, healthy and resilient landscape is just as important for many businesses as it is for homeowners. With summer approaching, water costs can rise, but a few simple measures can reduce irrigation costs by up to 30%, says Lance Ackerman, senior conservation specialist with Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU).

CSU offers a free irrigation audit program to identify maintenance issues and scheduling changes that can make a difference, Ackerman says.

“The free site visit takes about three hours,” he says. The best time for the audit is after the irrigation system gets turned on, so that technicians can look at its normal operating condition and suggest easy improvements to conserve water.

“Once those things are done, we have several other programs,” Ackerman says. “If they need assistance making efficiency upgrades, we have irrigation equipment rebates they can participate in.”

Those might include upgrading sprinkler heads, nozzles or controllers or installing flow sensing and monitoring devices.

“We have an irrigation direct retrofit program that provides up to a $10,000 incentive for our business customers,” Ackerman says. “That covers equipment as well as labor to get projects done.”

And for those looking to replace a water-intensive landscape material like Kentucky bluegrass, “we have our turfto-native program,” Ackerman says.

RJS Program

The RJS initiative, designed to stimulate economic growth in economically distressed rural areas of Colorado, fosters the establishment and relocation of businesses, thereby cultivating new job opportunities and crafting more resilient and diversified local economies. Businesses accepted into the RJS program can qualify for benefits such as tax incentives and grant offerings. For a business to be eligible, it must not be currently operating in Colorado, it must be located in a rural jump-start zone and it must plan to hire at least five local qualified new hires.

AMCON Distributing Company, the sixth largest wholesale distributor of convenience store products in the nation, is set to expand its operations into Colorado City. Over the next four years, the company projects hiring 27 full-time employees, primarily tasked with administrative and warehousing operations.

Removing thirsty turf grass and installing native grasses can provide water cost savings of 50-80%, because native grass landscapes require only one watering per week to remain attractive and healthy.

Kentucky bluegrass landscape can require watering three days per week. Native grass also requires less maintenance — it can be mowed as infrequently as twice a year and needs less fertilizing, usually only once during the growing season.

“We offer a 50-cents-persquare-foot incentive for that rebate program, up to $20,000,” Ackerman says.

Almost a dozen types of native grasses, along with other types of waterwise

are on display at the CSU Conservation and

Environmental Center at 2855 Mesa Road, Ackerman says, and waterwise landscape experts are available for consultations onsite from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

More information about rebates and incentives and requests for an audit can be found at under the business tab.

Jeanne Davant is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

Ask Oracle, a Pueblo-based data and information technology startup, is developing its maiden product, Home nDex, which is a property maintenance application. The company envisions employing 22 full-time staff members over the next four years, with roles in customer service, marketing, finance and other administrative functions.

Fomcore, a soft-seating furniture manufacturer headquartered in Michigan, has expanded its production into Pueblo County to serve the western U.S. market. Specializing in customizable foam furniture with a lifetime warranty, Fomcore anticipates employing 10 full-time staff members for manufacturing, material management, maintenance and administrative roles.

“The Rural Jump-Start program is an important tool to support new jobs across Colorado, and we are thrilled to see these three businesses recognize the many benefits of expanding in Pueblo County. Together, they are diversifying and strengthening the area economy,” says Eve Lieberman, OEDIT executive director.

Tiffany Underwood is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

17 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest Environmental
landscaping, Drought- and heat-tolerant Buffalo grass has a uniform, lawnlike appearance. Top: Blue Grama, a low-growing, lowwater native grass, is displayed at the CSU demonstration garden.
Right: High-efficiency sprinklers and Buffalo grass can help reduce water costs.

Life and Times of the 2C Ballot Issue

Ballot item 2C was originally passed by voters in 2015. It allowed the city to impose a 0.62% sales tax increase from 2016 to 2020. Revenues collected were approximately $50 million annually, exclusively for road improvements within the city of Colorado Springs. In 2019, voters passed a five-year extension for 2C at a tax rate of 0.57%. The new tax rate took effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

The 2C revenues complement road maintenance that is already funded through the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (PPRTA) and the City’s General Fund budget. It provides additional funding that is needed to halt deterioration and improve the roads in Colorado Springs.

The sales tax revenues are only applied to roads, approximately 50% of which is assigned to sidewalks, curb and gutter. An essential part of roadway maintenance is the replacement or repair of concrete. Pedestrian ramps and passable routes that meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and enhance accessibility in the Colorado Springs area are also included.

Mayor Yemi Mobolade confirmed that he and the City Council will ask voters for a 10-year extension of the 2C expanded street paving program. The question will be on the ballot in November; and Mayor Yemi addressed the need during a recent media event regarding paving and potholes. He stated, “So, we can do it without a tax increase while still addressing our infrastructure needs.”

Officials say that continuing the 2C program remains the best way to reduce potholes, but the extra paving hasn’t always reduced their numbers. Per city statistics, crews repaired more than 60,000 potholes in 2022, and the number rose to nearly 87,000 last year.

Recent city statistics reveal that crews have repaired nearly 34,000 potholes in 2024, which is likely to exceed the record of 106,000 in 2019. The city has between six and eight daily crews devoted to pothole repair.

John Suthers, the previous mayor of Colorado Springs, authored 2C when he ran for the first of his two terms in 2015. “The city is making progress but still is far behind where it should be,” he says. He adds that the percentage of city roads in poor condition has decreased from 66% to 50% during the life of 2C. This is a sign of progress, but also an indication of how much more needs to be done.

Kay Rowe is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 18 Infrastructure
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Global Space Community Unites in Colorado Springs Aerospace

To examine critical space issues from multiple perspectives

More than 12,000 professionals and government personnel from 60 countries converged on The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, April 9-11, for Space Foundation’s 39th Space Symposium.

With the global challenges and opportunities of modern times requiring collaborative efforts amongst commercial enterprises, government agencies and defense organizations – the annual gathering is considered a “must-attend” in all sectors of the space community.

Panel discussions, forums, and programming tracks fostered conversation around topics like space governance, military developments, innovation, exploration, sustainability

and more. The two sold-out exhibit halls featured 245 exhibits across 153,000 square feet of space, many of which rivaled Broadway stage sets. For scale, last year’s exhibit space included 700,000 pounds of freight, which is equal to 700 grand pianos or 350 Mars Curiosity rovers.

Space Symposium illustrates the enormous impact felt on Earth by activity in space and the considerable breadth of the Colorado Springs space ecosystem. Colorado boasts the nation’s second-largest civilian space economy per capita, with more than 1,000 aerospace firms employing 35,000 workers and bringing in $15 billion of Colorado GDP (defense and aerospace combined). The state of Colorado benefits as well — noted Space Foundation CEO Heather Pringle in a Colorado Springs Women’s Chamber of Commerce

luncheon in March — bringing in more than $307 million dollars in state tax revenue from the industry.

Collaboration is key to Symposium

Jim Lovewell, COO of the Colorado Springs Chamber + EDC, notes the collective efforts between civilian space and military space.

“Look back at when Ukraine was first invaded by Russia,” he says. “Space X was able to reposition satellites — civilian satellites — so that when the Russians were trying to deprive the Ukrainian people of having internet, U.S. civilian satellites were brought into orbit to overcome that, an example of a civilian space asset having an effect for national power.”

The Chamber + EDC shared a Symposium booth with Colorado

Springs-based Space Information Sharing and Analysis Center (Space ISAC) which focuses on these types of collaborative efforts by bringing together the global space community to share information about threats and vulnerabilities for space systems.

According to Space ISAC Executive Director Erin Miller, “There’s enough unclassified commercial data out there to inform when systems are under attack that we can share that information with our members and partners which span across the globe.”

Adding to the military and civilian collaboration is the international component of Symposium which provides an outlet for partner nations to share solutions and technology.

“At the end of the day, if we do go to war, we would normally go to / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 20


Space Symposium

war with our partners together,” says Matt McGuire, Booz Allen Hamilton’s Colorado Springs site lead. “That’s why I think NATO is such a force in Europe is because it’s everybody together and a lot of those same partners in NATO are countries that bring relevant technology not just to European nations but also to the U.S.”

Symposium offers a unique opportunity for government to discuss their needs and requirements with industry players who then gain a better understanding of what they could provide to solve problems.

“We have engagements [at Symposium] where we’ll listen to some of the senior government folks in sessions explain what their plans are for the future and what their needs are, what they’re seeing in terms of threat environment,” McGuire continues. “Industry has an opportunity not only to invite the government over but to talk to each other and say ‘How can we team up to provide a more holistic solution that our client is looking for?’”

Mark Stafford, who is CEO of local


Delta Solutions & Strategies, says his group planned meetings with senior leaders from the Air Force, Space Force, and Army to understand their needs, and planned on “meeting with businesses to form new relationships or expand existing relationships to look at future work we want to go after.”

Space systems affect more than national defense and military operations. The solutions provided by the aerospace and cybersecurity companies present at Space Symposium play a significant role in day-to-day life here on Earth. For everyone.

Why space matters when it comes to life

on Earth (and in Colorado Springs)

When humankind first landed on the moon in 1969, it was a space race between two nations. Today, governments and private companies around the world operate space programs.

Systems in low Earth orbit (LEO) control many aspects of daily life: the GPS directing a ride share driver to an office or a delivery driver to a home; imagery helping farmers monitor crops; satellites enabling

cell phones, internet and television broadcasts.

Vulnerabilities in space infrastructure also affect emergency response, U.S. military operations, financial transactions and energy grids.

Earlier this year, Space ISAC’s Erin Miller told The Digest, “The critical nature of that infrastructure is such that all humans across the globe are dependent upon that infrastructure — yet we don’t necessarily recognize on a daily basis how dependent we are on those systems and how essential it is that we protect them.”

During Space Symposium, Space ISAC and Capella Space Corp. announced a successful kick-off of

the LEO Owner Operators Affinity Group, for commercial owneroperators to better understand threat and security concerns. It is a significant milestone in enhancing security collaboration within the space industry.

According to Frank Backes, CEO of Capella Space, in a press release, “We are honored to co-chair the LEO Owner Operators Affinity Group to help facilitate collaboration with other leading commercial owner operators in the field. Capella Space’s expertise in low Earth orbit signals intelligence will bring unique value in better understanding threats to space infrastructure.”

21 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest
FROM P. 20
Top left: Apollo 16 Astronaut Charlie Duke shared his knowledge and insights with attendees who cherished time with the space legend. Top right: Dr. Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pueblo, CO, presented Unlocking Answers to Humanity’s Biggest Questions. Vice President Kamala Harris addressed a full lecture hall at the 39th Space Symposium at the Broadmoor.
Earlier this year, Space ISAC’s Erin Miller told The Digest:
“The critical nature of that infrastructure is such that all humans across the globe are dependent upon that infrastructure — yet we don’t necessarily recognize on a daily basis how dependent we are on those systems and how essential it is that we protect them.”

Monitoring threats to space infrastructure means more than looking for potential attacks by adversaries. While the deployment of space infrastructure has brought a host of benefits, advancements and business opportunities, it has also created space debris which can include nonfunctional or abandoned equipment.

According to NASA, there are millions of tiny objects of debris, measuring between 1 millimeter and 10 centimeters, currently in LEO. Traveling at high speeds, even a tiny piece can seriously damage space assets. Cross-agency conversations at Space Symposium surrounded the topics of trash in the cosmos and challenges to long-term sustainability. Even in the days since Symposium ended, NASA confirmed an object which crashed through a Florida home in March was a piece of space debris, further evidence of the problem innovators seek to solve.

Colorado Springs and its workforce benefit from the city being a hub for solutions & advancements in the cosmos

With five military installations, the National Cybersecurity Center, Space ISAC, the Space Training and Readiness Command (STARCOM),

and Space Systems Command (SSC), Colorado Springs has a strong reputation as a critical hub for all things space.

The city’s aerospace and cybersecurity ecosystem also boasts more than 250 aerospace and defense companies which address space-related challenges and advance humankind further into the final frontier.

One company new to the region is Spectrum Advanced Manufacturing Technologies which announced during Space Symposium it has selected Colorado Springs for their expansion.

Spectrum provides quickturn product development and manufacturing services for aerospace, medical, industrial and commercial marketplaces and, according to a statement, expects to create 100 new net jobs at an average annual wage of $85,407 (which is 135% of the average annual wage in El Paso County.)

The Chamber + EDC’s Lovewell says that, for Colorado Springs to remain an important aerospace hub and to continue attracting employers, it’s important to preserve the military missions as government and military spending accounts for more than 40% of the gross domestic product in the region.

Booz Allen Hamilton, for instance, employees 525 people in its Colorado Springs location and, according to

local spokesperson McGuire, his company is an employer wherever there is a large military presence.

“Regardless of the clients being here, it’s a great place to live so it attracts top talent. We’re able to pull a lot of that talent from all over the country, particularly in the STEM fields, to develop the next generation and capabilities for space,” he says.

Lovewell adds that there is a real competition in the U.S. for technical and skilled trade talent. With those fields fueling the local economy in the Pikes Peak region, it is important to keep an eye on talent recruitment and workforce development. (See sidebar)

“It doesn’t hurt that we live in a beautiful, wonderful, prosperous, thriving outdoor-oriented location,” he says. “All of those things tie into each other to create a great proposition for our region.”

Every mission starts in the classroom: Developing the workforce for tomorrow

As Heather Pringle, CEO of Space Foundation said during Symposium, “It’s imperative for the space ecosystem with the growth that it’s seeing to have the talent pipeline, a robust talent pipeline; a workforce that is skilled, inspired and inclusive.”

As a retired U.S. Air Force major general who now sits at the helm of the nonprofit that organizes Space Symposium, Pringle is talking about her group’s partnership with The Aerospace Corporation on an initiative called Space Workforce 2030. The alliance of 29 companies works to eliminate the talent gap by igniting interest in space amongst K-12 students, forging pathways for future space careers through internship programs, and bolstering recruitment and retention of the workforce.

It was at Space Symposium two years ago that a group of CEOs from partner companies came together to put their name on a pledge. Melanie Stricklan, who is now executive director of the initiative, was one of those CEOs.

“The reason we put our names down on that pledge was to make sure it’s not just the workforce we’re looking at today,” she says. “It’s the workforce for tomorrow. Can we collectively reach K-12? Can we collectively reach the undergrad and graduate students that need to understand their place in space? Can we collectively understand how to work together and open up communication lines across the competitive landscape? We did that and we will continue to do that.” / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 22

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark accepted the 2024 Athena Educational Award on behalf of the Academy.

CONTINUATION FROM P. 22 Space Symposium

Since the group’s inception in 2022, Space Workforce 2030 member companies report data that show meaningful increases in the percentage of women and People of Color (POC) in both technical staff and intern hires. POC in technical positions rose from 32.7% to 34.1% in 2023 while women in technical positions rose from 18.5% to 19.4%, according to the group’s second annual report.

There may be competition for technical talent across the nation, but as the Chamber + EDC’s Lovewell points out, the local military presence is a huge benefit when it comes to winning talent that will feed into the region’s aerospace ecosystem.

“Locally, 250-400 personnel are retiring or separating from the military each month,” says Lovewell. “Think of all the trained talent coming out of there, many of whom have security clearances. Multiply that even more by spouses of military, their children who are making decisions to go into higher education.”

Retired military personnel can use their GI bills to fill gaps in fields they’re not already trained in, and Lovewell adds that last month alone 275 people attended Cyber First Friday at the National Cyber Security Center. Many of those attendees were transitioning military personnel looking to break into cyber careers.

Stafford of Delta Solutions says, when it comes to hiring space operators, there is an excellent pool of candidates in Colorado Springs. Where his company sees gaps is in cyber, software testing and

top secret level security clearances so they bring in veterans and transitioning veterans for a six-month internship after leaving the Air Force, Space Force, or Army.

“One thing I find surprising,” he says, “is that everyone focuses on the technical. I think one thing we could all get better at here in Colorado is accountants, finance people, HR, recruiting. We need that to run the company. People focus on the STEM work and forget about that.”

Booz Allen Hamilton’s McGuire talks about his firm’s internship program which gives college juniors or seniors the chance to complete a tenweek project competition called “Summer Games.”

“That’s a great resource for us from a recruiting perspective,” he says, “but also for young people who are in school to get exposure to industry, to understand what different companies are doing so they can get a better focus of how they transfer their academic life into stuff they want to do when they graduate.”

Many local groups, including Booz Allen Hamilton and the Chamber, also work with the city’s higher education institutions to develop that talent and retain it locally.

Pringle concludes, “What we like to say at Space Foundation is every mission starts in the classroom. So that’s why generating this interest in the classroom at the local level is where it all begins.”

Keri Kahn is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

Leaders in Space Industry Launch Space4All

It’s estimated that by 2025, the U.S. STEM workforce will need 3.5 million new workers. With the goal of addressing that shortfall, a publicprivate partnership was formed between the U.S. Department of Education and four nonprofit organizations – Women in Aerospace, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Blue Origin’s Club for the Future, and Space Foundation. Space4All is a national space STEM public awareness campaign to promote the benefits and opportunities associated with space exploration. The initiative seeks to reach students and jobseekers who may feel that a future in space and STEM is unattainable for them.

The unprecedented campaign was first announced on April 8 when Vice President Kamala Harris issued a Call to Action to bring the benefits of space to communities across America. With a specific focus on reaching underrepresented communities to ensure equitable, diverse, and inclusive growth, the campaign will spotlight the relevance, impact and accessibility of space and highlight pathways to success in spacerelated STEM education and careers.

23 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest


Space Symposium

Space4All was developed around these themes:

• Space holds the keys to solving global challenges, discovering life-changing scientific breakthroughs and creating leading-edge technologies that revolutionize life here on Earth.

• Space is an important part of our lives, our communities and our future.

• Space offers inspiring and financially rewarding careers for all types of skills and occupations including scientists, engineers, software developers, architects, physicians, machinists, technicians, welders, seamstresses, fashion designers, financial professionals and many more. With the goal to Inspire, Prepare and Employ a diverse space workforce, the campaign has the support of more than 150 additional corporate, federal, and community-based organizations.

As the lead government partner, the U.S. Department of Education adds expertise in connecting with students and preparing them for future success. “Our nation prospers when all students know and understand that they belong in STEM fields and that careers in space offer boundless opportunities for their success,” says U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten.

On May 3, National Space Day, fourth and fifth grade classes across the country can join in exploring the wonders of space through a 45-minute broadcast through YouTube at 1 p.m. ET, supported by a special curriculum packet and educational materials. This event, led by Space Workforce 2030, will include a Q&A between kids and America’s space experts. The campaign will also work with influencers and celebrities to further the reach of the Space4All message. Notable names include Emily Calandrelli (The Space Gal), Leland Melvin, Maynard Okereke (Hip Hop MD), Dr. Sian Proctor, and William Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.

Dr. Sian Proctor, Inspiration4 mission pilot and first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft, helped launch the campaign with this video: As the Space4All movement accelerates, resources and events will be added to the campaign website.

Lee Harper is the managing editor for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

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Economic Forum

Occupation Data Highlights Unique Region Characteristics

The latest update of the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a window into some of the unique economic characteristics of Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the state of Colorado.

This data includes estimates of employment and wages in many different occupational categories. For each occupation, the BLS calculates a location coefficient. This is the share of local employment in a category relative to the U.S. overall. A location coefficient of 1 means that the share of that occupation in local employment is the same as the U.S.; a coefficient of 2 means the concentration of that occupation in a location is double that of the country.

Many industries develop in clusters – this is partly due to what economists call “agglomeration effects” – where firms benefit from proximity to other firms in the same industry. This can be driven by knowledge spillovers – particularly for “tacit knowledge” which comes from experience and is often transmitted informally. The presence of other firms in the same industry also helps ensure that the local workforce has relevant experience. Wellknown examples of clusters include auto manufacturing in the Detroit area and filmmaking in Southern California.

Some of the highest location coefficients for Colorado Springs are associated with local

industry clusters. These include processing technicians for the region’s semiconductor industry, aerospace engineers for our defense and aerospace cluster, and information security analysts in our cybersecurity sector. The location coefficient for religious workers illustrates how religious organizations are a more significant part of the economy in Colorado Springs than in other places.

The significance of travel and tourism is highlighted by the location coefficient for tour and travel guides. With the region’s growth and population turnover, Colorado Springs also has an

unusually large concentration of real estate agents.

Colorado Springs’ highest location coefficient may have more to do with the region’s propensity for hailstorms than any economic advantage – the share of insurance appraisers for auto damage in local employment is more than ten times that of the country as a whole.

Pueblo’s role as a manufacturing center is shown by its high location coefficients for molders, shapers and casters (4.16), cutting and slicing machine setters, operators, and tenders (2.84) and industrial machinery mechanics (2.29).

Like Colorado Springs, Pueblo

has a relatively high concentration of substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, with a location coefficient of 3.78.

For the state overall, occupations with high location coefficients include astronomers (9.78), atmospheric and space scientists (5.84) and mining and geological engineers (4.06).

Dr. Bill Craighead is the Director of the UCCS Economic Forum.

25 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest

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Arts & Entertainment

Lulu’s Moves from Downstairs to Downtown

For six years, Lulu’s Downstairs carried the mixed blessing of being Manitou Springs’ best kept secret — a hidden gem tucked in the basement of the former Castaways Inn. With a cool Rat Pack vibe, a hot blend of Americana bands played in a room that once hosted Ray Charles, Tina Turner and other greats from the ’50s and ’60s.

But in January, club owner Marc Benning had to find a new home for Lulu’s. In a few short days, Benning moved equipment into storage, with no Plan B. He figured this would be a time to pause and decide if and where he might revive Lulu’s.

Then, a realtor friend told him about a newly vacant space on the second floor of 32 S. Tejon, in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. It’s a space recently vacated by Studio 32 Discotheque, and, before that, the restaurant and nightclub Epiphany. In the early 2000s, the space housed the nightclub 32 Bleu which attracted the likes of Rufus Wainwright, Tech N9ne, Cowboy Junkies, Tab Benoit, Taj Mahal, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet, the Wailers … acts even Denver would be lucky to get.

“I’d seen some of those shows back when 32 Bleu was here, and it had imprinted on my mind what a show would feel like,” Benning says.

He has been working nonstop to make that happen. After getting the keys to the new space in late February, he presented the first concert there just over a week later.

The remodel and construction, which are still ongoing, haven’t been easy. The disco that had been the previous tenant, had left the place mostly bright white.

“There was a bed over there. There was a bathtub,” Benning says with a scowl. “It was a thing. It wasn’t OUR thing.”

His thing is mostly simple — browns and tans to blend with the exposed brick walls and the natural wood floor. But Benning shows his eccentricity with a wall behind the bar filled with some of the thrift-store chic brought from the Manitou venue.

Lulu’s is exactly the kind of tenant Susan Edmondson was hoping for when the disco moved out. She’s the CEO of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership and recalls fondly the days of 32 Bleu.

“I feel like Lulu’s was always meant to be downtown,” she says. “It’s such a game changer to welcome this wellrun, well-established live music venue to the heart of the city. Marc Benning is respected in the industry and we know, with this location, Lulu’s can truly thrive.”

That’s what Benning has hoped for, but he sees it as a work in progress. He does almost all the bookings himself, and each usually starts with a call from artist agents. They know he treats artists well, and that reputation goes way beyond the two iterations of Lulu’s.

Born in Pittsburgh, Benning attended high school in San Francisco; graduated from the Berklee School of Music; helped found the rock band 34 Satellite (which recorded five albums and toured all over); became a songwriter, record producer, studio musician, label owner, and, finally, venue owner. He moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to his daughter, and named the

Lulu clubs after her.

With a downstairs and open mezzanine, the new downtown Lulu’s can fit almost as many patrons as the Manitou club. But while the old venue had booths in back and often had cocktail tables scattered around, the new place has stools along the front of the mezzanine. Benning says to make the economics work for gigs here, most of the audience will have to stand. Younger people, whom he sees as the target audience, want to stand. Benning has opened his downtown club at a time of growth for live music venues. The nearby 8,000seat Weidner Field has brought in some heavy-hitting rock and country acts, and the 8,000-seat Sunset

Amphitheater promises to do the same.

“It’s exciting to be part of that growth,” Benning says.

He talks about the mix of upcoming acts, spanning many genres: alt-country, folk, dancehall reggae. Some of the upcoming shows include: psychedelia southern rock band Sam Burchfield & The Scoundrels (June 16), folky blues singer Sunny War (June 21); and reggae-ska singer songwriter Kyle Smith with Drifting Roots and Alific.

While Benning still has work ahead of him, it’s clear that Lulu’s is a gem — and no longer a hidden one.

Warren Epstein is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 28
Top: The wall decor made the trip from the Downstairs location to the new Downtown spot, on South Tejon Street.
Right: Lulu’s Downstairs was in Manitou Springs for six years before moving to Downtown Colorado Springs.

Economic Development through the Eyes of Jessie Kimber

Colorado Springs native Jessie Kimber is glad to be back home after retiring from a 24year career in the Navy.

“I graduated from UCCS and saw the world for the next 20 years,” explains Kimber. “After 17 moves, we decided to come back to the place I loved growing up.”

Deputy director for NORAD when she retired, Kimber now serves as the city’s director of economic development. She has completed extensive studies in the intricacies of ecosystems through the Department of Defense (DOD) Skill Bridge Program.

“Timing is everything, and in 2022 a position opened in the city under Mayor Suthers, as special assistant to the mayor in military affairs and community relations,” notes Kimber. “I jumped on the opportunity and learned invaluable experience, touching every area of the city.”

After a stint at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, Kimber says she was fortunate to land in her current position.

“It’s an exciting time to be in Colorado Springs,” expresses Kimber. “We are the 39th largest city in the country and, although if feels like we’re growing like crazy, it’s more of a steady growth. We know as we bring in more companies and more people, we also must balance improved infrastructure and attention to our own community workers, high school and college graduates.”

“Last year, along with our partners, we inked nine economic development agreements bringing in $2 billion in

private investment, for the next 12 months to 10 years. Our partners are imperative, and companies look to see if everyone plays nicely in the sandbox,” Kimber explains.

The city works with the COS Chamber & EDC; elected officials; regional, state and federal entities; along with the five military installations housed in Colorado Springs, according to Kimber. El Paso County led the state in incentives for attracting new businesses resulting in a 500% increase in economic development for 2024, with $133 million dollars for the local economy.

As primary employers are attracted to the region, Kimber’s office is looking closely at the city’s K-12 pipeline.

“We have to close the gap for future jobs right now with our schools,” she emphasizes. “Our Pikes Peak Workforce center is already working on this with different industries. Lockheed Martin already sponsors a Space Day for Harrison Schools. The Pikes Peak HBA [Housing & Building Association] also has an amazing program for many different trades, focusing on high school students.”

Then, there is small business. The city works with all the local chambers, including the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber, Black Chamber, Filipino Chamber and Asian Chamber. They also work to connect small businesses with the Better Business Bureau, Mt. Carmel – Veterans Business Office, Small Business Development Center, Exponential Impact and the Thrive Network.

“We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we want to make it simple for them to connect to resources. We have a real human you can contact through email or telephone,” explains Kimber.

Pam Bales is a senior writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

29 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest Economic Development
Jessie Kimber
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Small Business Spotlight Building a Dental Practice that Tears Down Fear

For 20 years, Dr. Bill Thompson and his team at Pine Creek

Dental have placed patient comfort front and center. They’ve focused on genuinely caring about patient wellbeing. It’s a personal touch which goes a long way, as illustrated by the more than 10,000 patients Dr. Thompson has seen since opening the doors in 2004.

“We really get to know people,” says Dr. Thompson. “I’ve seen kids who are in kindergarten and they’re grown up and married now. We remember their stories. We get to know you personally.”

Pine Creek moved into a new building last May, designed by Dr. Thompson and his wife, Suzanne, to be a relaxing space for patients

and also provides room for future expansion. Once inside, patients are greeted by a visibly happy staff. Mountain views, ocean photography and even a signature scent contribute to an environment to promote calm.

“Going to the dentist doesn’t have to be painful and scary,” Dr. Thompson says. “We don’t hurt people here. We’re just trying to make people think of this as not a bad, scary place.”

There are private rooms to discuss health concerns and billing, and staff is trained on using patient-friendly language which never includes words like “drill” or “shot.” Pine Creek boasts modern equipment, too.

Crown-making technology allows patients to receive procedures like root canals and permanent crowns on the same day. Before the practice owned this equipment, Dr. Thompson, like many other dentists, would install

temporary crowns while waiting for the permanent ones to arrive from an outside company. This was a hassle.

“I really value people’s time,” he says. “You drive here twice and you get numbed twice and maybe the temporary comes off in the meantime. It wastes your time — people are so busy.”

Focusing on the unique needs of patients in ways like this has resulted in many long-term relationships. Dr. Thompson speaks of one such relationship with an elderly man. The gentleman was unhealthy, losing weight in an assisted living home. It was difficult for him to chew and digest food because he was missing his molars.

“We just put a couple of implants in so he could chew in one spot -- that’s all we did,” Dr. Thompson says. “We gave him two teeth to chew on. He

started digesting his food and getting healthy and gaining weight. He came back in six months and he wasn’t sick anymore. It’s not just about a pretty smile.”

Pine Creek Dental is always accepting new patients. To learn more about the business, as well as the growing aesthetics services offered in the same building, visit www.

Keri Kahn is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

31 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest
Photos courtesy of Pine Creek Dental

Economic Development Masters of Shrinkflation

Dollar stores are a common option for shoppers, particularly in low-income communities across the U.S. When Dollar Tree, one of the largest dollar store brands in the nation, announced it was raising the price cap in its stores to $7, it caused a stir. In an earnings call, Dollar Tree executives said the decision was partially made due to higher-income customers frequenting their stores. They claimed their “fastest-growing demographic is north of $125,000 a year in income.” But the price bump also shined a spotlight on another growing factor of dollar stores: shrinkflation.

Some reports have indicated that dollar stores have become the worst offenders of the practice.

Why Shrinkflation?

Dollar stores’ single-digit prices lure in consumers, yet they “actually end up costing customers more in the long run,” Sasha Rogelberg states for Fortune magazine. This is especially true for essential products, since “toilet paper, soap, and groceries cost

more per unit price at dollar stores than they do at other large retailers.” Statistics show the majority of dollar store customers are in lowincome brackets. Brian Numainville, the principal of retail consulting The Feedback Group, told Fortune: these customers are “sensitive to the price hikes that are associated with inflation. Instead of raising prices and alienating customers, these retailers opt to cut the size of their products while keeping the prices the

same.” Per Numainville, it creates the “illusion of a good deal while keeping their profit margins wide.” Widespread shrinkflation in all types of stores has “resulted in tasty profit margins for both Dollar General and Dollar Tree,” Bill Wilson says for

Supermarket News. At least three out of four Americans are concerned with shrinkflation, says Wilson, but “many dollar store shoppers are locked into their go-to place for groceries because there are no other options.”

What’s Next?

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Shrinkflation Prevention Act this February to “crack down on corporations that deceive consumers by selling smaller sizes of their products without lowering the prices.”

Kay Rowe is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

According to a CBS News report by Anne Marie Lee, Dollar Tree will close roughly 600 Family Dollar stores in the first half of fiscal 2024, and about 370 Family Dollar and 30 Dollar Tree stores over the next several years as their leases expire. / Vol. 2 No. 4 - April/May 2024 / 32
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GRIT: App to Enhance Resilience

There’s a new web-based app available to individuals across the country who want to improve their resilience and coach others on handling individual and community issues as they arise, thanks to the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

The app, called GRIT-e, is a product of the Greater Resiliency Information Toolkit (GRIT) program, and is considered a groundbreaking tool to help people build community support and become GRIT coaches to others.

GRIT-e equips coaches — people who have already gone through the initial training available through the Lyda Hill Institute — with essential tools such as skill reminders, communication features and success stories. It also provides access to additional resources, both locally and nationally, helping create community engagement and a network of assistance for disaster response efforts. It’s well documented that social support in the wake of community disasters can increase/ improve recovery and resilience.

The platform allows coaches to track conversations to increase social support, submit posts, offer

encouragement, share resources and alert others to relevant events. It’s available worldwide with the goal of sharing valuable resources in the event of community stress and disasters.

GRIT was born of the 2020 pandemic, when resources were stretched and community leaders saw a need to bring people together virtually for support. The GRIT-e app continues this work and offers another avenue to empower individuals and communities in navigating challenges with strength and resilience.

With GRIT-e, the goal is to create a strong network of coaches, enabling swift support during crises. GRIT offers this platform free of charge, showing the commitment to promote resilience and social cohesion. GRIT-e has been made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.

Weis is the director of community training and empowerment at the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

UP Anyone can sign up for the web-based app: GRIT.RESILIENCESUPPORT.COM

Lawsuit Over Immigration Laws & Articles

Douglas and El Paso counties recently filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado over “sanctuary” statutes that restrict local law enforcement officials from working with federal authorities on illegal immigration.

“The nation is facing an immigration crisis,” the complaint says. “The nation, the state and local

governments need to cooperate and share resources to address this crisis. Colorado House Bills 19-1124 and 23-1100 prohibit the necessary cooperation and create dangerous conditions for the state and migrants.”

The lawsuit claims the two laws are “illegal and unconstitutional” because they violate the Colorado Constitution’s provisions on intergovernmental relationships and distribution of powers as well as being preempted by federal immigration

laws and regulations.

An estimated 40,000 immigrants have arrived in Denver over the past 16 months, and as many as 20,000 might have decided to stay. While numbers for other areas are unclear, Aurora and Colorado Springs, as well as Douglas County, have stated they cannot afford to care for an influx of immigrants.

Douglas County Sheriff Darren Weekly says: “It’s unfair to the migrants on how this is all happening. They’re being promised things that we

can’t deliver on.”

He called it a public safety issue that “affects everybody.” Weekly adds “For us to be restricted and have our hands tied to say we can’t communicate legitimate information to the feds or hold information that could be dangerous to our community — it just does not make sense.”

Kay Rowe is a staff writer for the SoCo Business Forum & Digest.

33 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest

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37 / Southern Colorado Business Forum & Digest April/May 2024
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