By Steve Kipp
A private-public sector economic merger trend making its way around the country has spread to the lower Ute Pass with Manitou Springs implementing such a move.
The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau voted last month to merge with the eight-year-old Manitou Springs Economic Development Council (EDC). The Manitou Springs City Council followed with a unanimous resolution that dissolved the city’s EDC, in favor of a new entity that will be labeled the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau and Office of Economic Development. A new person will then be hired to head the office’s operations next year.
The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce had originally decided to dissolve in August as a recommendation of a nine-person Consolidation Working Group. A new entity was then to have re-emerged. However, local Chamber members circulated a petition, causing the group to rescind its August decision.
As a result, the new change will do away with the idea of having a separate, local EDC entity. The EDC has indicated a merger was preferable to its members. The merger was also agreed upon by the Manitou Springs Metropolitan District, which is a quasi-municipal entity, during its November meeting.
Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leslie Lewis said it would be “easier and quicker to merge” as one instead of “dissolving our organization and immediately re-emerging as another.” It allows the chamber to retain its continuity of history. It will remain a member of the National Chamber of Commerce.
Manitou Springs’ merger is part of a growing economic trend in other parts of the country. For example, two recent similar mergers occurred — or are in the official process of happening — in Washington state. The Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce merged with its local EDC followed by similar details being worked out between the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and its EDC.
And key decision-makers in those mergers indicated previous success of such mergers in other parts of the country. Reasons cited for the recent trend include:
Enhanced economic collaboration
More direct impact by chamber business members upon potential economic development
Larger organizational punch by way of offering expanded services
Lewis indicated similar reasons behind Manitou Springs’ actions.
“Both the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council have been receiving funding from the city,” Lewis said, citing how the city reviewed how it could reduce expenses. “It offered greater efficiencies to look at a merger. The Business Improvement District was not involved in the merger per se, but we may do contracting and marketing for them.”
The share of this collective marketing function will fall to a new chief operating officer (COO) of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau and Economic Development Council. The COO will be brought in sometime in 2011. Previously, Kitty Clemens headed the EDC operations until last year.
Lewis said all three organizations strive to link and enhance their messages, but that coordination involving personnel under three roofs involved previous challenges. She believes “coordination of better efforts can be achieved by one organization.”
Manitou Springs President of the Chamber’s Board of Directors Executive Committee, Bianca Codiga, who was also part of the Consolidation Working Group, already indicated such enhancement.
“Necessity caused all of the city’s entities to work together and become efficient and we found out that not only can we work together but we actually are stronger and more efficient when we do,” Codiga cited in the Chamber of Commerce November newsletter. “Our city sales tax, Chamber Web site statistics, and tourist visitation numbers are all very impressive.”
A model community for events
And no one can dispute the success of many special events held in Manitou Springs, making the town a model for doing unique and unusual festivals that have strong local roots.
Floyd O’Neil, a spokesman for the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, cited one example with the October Coffin races in Manitou Springs, which he said “drew the largest turnout ever and had the biggest number of participants ever.”
“Budget Travel Magazine noted that Manitou Springs is one of the coolest small towns in America,” O’Neil added, citing its September, 2008 “10 Coolest Small Towns” article:
Manitou Springs’ mostly small independent businesses benefit from such events and the associated publicity. Another relatively new national movement, aimed at helping independent businesses both in Manitou Springs and the Ute Pass region, was the “Small Business Saturday,” held two days after Thanksgiving. Promoters of “Small Business Saturday” have mentioned how large retailers monopolize “Black Friday” and online retailers lock up “Cyber Monday,” which officially kicked off on Nov. 29 Thus, the Small Business Saturday occurred on Nov. 27 “as a way to embrace the business sector many shoppers recognize as the economic backbone of our country. Small Business Saturday came with its own set of special deals and incentives for holiday shoppers.
Small Business Saturday has been going on for four years, but this is the first year it received significant media attention.
O’Neil isn’t sure if Small Business Saturday, which some regard as the kick-off of the Yuletide season for more independent businesses, has trickled down to reach the average shopper. “From a promotional standpoint, we’re doing a Monarch two for one ski promotional and we saw an increase with a lot of redemptions over the (Thanksgiving) weekend,” said O’Neil. The chamber spokesman noted big crowds in Manitou Springs following the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Yuletide holiday season in Manitou hit another high note with last Saturday’s “Snowflakes and Smiles” parade, which families lining Manitou Avenue for four blocks. It’s still too early to tell how these events will impact Manitou’s holiday-related retail sales, but preliminary reports indicate that the event generated impressive crowds. The town will conclude its 2010 special event boon with a “Santa Claus on Christmas Eve” arrival and a “Feast of Friendship Community Christmas Dinner” (see Mountain Almanac for details).