These days, speeches about our local economic future are pretty formulaic. (Folks, we're all in this together, looking toward a better 2009. OK, maybe a better 2010.)
So, it's a bit surprising when University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak takes the podium Tuesday at Cheyenne Mountain Resort with an actual plan.
No tears. No nervous laughter. The chancellor is methodical. The university could grow through private-public partnerships, she says, then rope in more money for the region, and create new high-paying jobs.
"We will not be an excellent university without an excellent region," she says. "And I do not believe we can have an excellent region without an excellent university."
Shockley-Zalabak, who's been in UCCS' top spot since 2001, is tired of talk. The region must choose how to grow, and the university and other local institutions of higher education, she says, are its key tools.
Her approach already is reaping some rewards. Donors have allowed the university to continue expanding despite Gov. Bill Ritter's freeze on state-funded capital construction. An impressive, new $56 million science and engineering building will open in spring, and an events center is slated to be complete in December '09. Shockley-Zalabak is even looking ahead to future renovation projects.
And that's just for starters. The chancellor wants to more than quadruple student enrollment to 35,000, and triple the university's economic impact to $750 million. And she wants to bring in 10 to 15 new research faculty with research money already tied to them through grants, no matter where they live as soon as possible.
The University of California at San Diego is a good example of how investments can pay off, she says. It opened the same decade as UCCS, the 1960s, and in a military town. Like UCCS, it was a small fry in a chain of universities.
But San Diego did something that UCCS did not. It spent money up front for plenty of research faculty, who in turn pumped money into the community. When military jobs got scarce, San Diego grew higher-paying jobs, largely in the technology sector making use of the university's skilled workers and research capital. New companies sprouted. The university now has a $7.2 billion economic impact more than 25 times that of UCCS.
UCCS could follow San Diego's lead, Shockley-Zalabak says, or there's the other option stay the course. For a long time, Colorado's big research universities, except UCCS, have been in the northern part of the state. And their economies have benefited from it. Meanwhile, she points out slyly, Southern Colorado has all the prisons.
"We have to reverse some of these historic outcomes," she asserts.
Needless to say, the audience isn't falling asleep in its white chocolate Kahlua mousse.
Shockley-Zalabak calls her plan the Southern Colorado Innovation Strategy, and she's already secured the cooperation of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., and city and county government. She's planning to gather more community leaders, work out the details, and then use 100 or more partners to fund university expansion. She'll need $10 million for now.
Chamber CEO David Csintyan calls the plan "a stroke of genius," explaining that Colorado Springs has the resources it needs for economic success, but has simply failed to capitalize on them fully.
"The university cannot be viewed as an island," he says. "It has to be viewed as a catalyst within the community."
J. Adrian Stanley