Leadership Visit 2016 Blog

The Columbia Chamber of Commerce is leading a delegation of 58 community and business leaders from a cross-section of Columbia/Boone County’s business, civic, education and nonprofit sectors to Fort Collins, CO for our third annual trip. This is the place to keep up with the discussions of each session and day. These are the key points about what the group is hearing and learning throughout the trip. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter and Facebook. We are using #como2fortco. Make sure you are up-to-date on everything said.

You can also keep up with the conversation by going to our Tweet page

Tuesday, Oct 4th

After many months of preparing for Leadership Visit 2016, the day was finally here. A group of nearly 60 business, city and county leaders from the region were on the way to Fort Collins, Colorado. The group gathered early in the morning to load the bus to head to the airport.

Within only a few hours they were in the air and getting ready to land in Denver, CO.

Once in Denver, everyone loaded the bus and were on the road to Fort Collins. During the ride, the delegation was give an overview of Fort Collins. They learned interesting facts like:

  • Top industries include IT, military, breweries (more beer is brewed in Fort Collins than anywhere else) and tourism/recreational and Agriculture
  • There are more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks
  • Scientists search for Sasquatch on Pikes Peak
  • Fort was located in Old Town (part of Fort Collins)
  • The city was founded in 1873
  • From 1896 -1969 the city was a dry town and the Women’s Christian Group led the ban
  • There are about 70,000 registered dogs – one for every two people
  • There about 70 taverns, three distilleries and 15 craft brewers that create 70% of craft beers in Colorado
  • Fort Collins is known as the “Napa Valley of beer”

Overview of Fort Collins

Fort Collins Policy & Project Manager, Ginny Sawyer, says they have a two-year budget process. Each of the seven departments within the city submits its budget requests. They try to create as much transparency as possible.

Sawyer says that taxes make up about 80 percent of the revenue. However, they can’t add or increase taxes without going to voters since 1968. Sawyer says voters have approved tax increases. The most recent was a citizen initiated tax idea for beautification and nature areas. Taxes also go towards maintaining 170 miles of street maintenance each year.

Sawyer emphasized they are focused on the future. They spend a lot of time talking about:

  • How to prevent or lessen the impact of disasters like fires and floods.
  • How to create more affordable housing.
  • Reducing greenhouse gasses with commuters.
  • How to collaborate even more than they already are. City leaders want the city to be a platform for other people to do great things.
  • How to increase public engagement. Right now, there are 27 boards & commission, city works programs and a community dashboard. They also rely heavily on volunteers. Volunteers are such a big part of the community the city recently hired a volunteer coordinator.

Sawyer says the relationship between the city and Colorado State University needs to be strong. They believe in it so much that there is a dedicated employee that’s paid by the city and university to ensure there is a direct line of communication. Sawyer says it is good to have that employee because they can address issues on both sides. She says the relationship is so strong and healthy right now that they have even received accreditation regarding economic development.

Another issue that Sawyer say they’re dealing with is poverty. Fort Collins has about 18 percent of the population living in poverty. Also, 35 percent of public school students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program (almost 50 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program in Columbia, per Columbia Public Schools Board member Jonathan Sessions).


A panel consisting of Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, City Manager Darin Atteberry, County Commissioner Lew Gaiter and Chamber President David May talked about the working relationship between government entities and how collaboration has led to success.

Chamber President and CEO, David May, says the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce has about 1200 members. The Chamber is managed by eight full-time and one part-time staff members with a budget of about $1.4 million. Similar to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, it does not include any economic development and focuses on the business climate in the region.

May says they always make an effort to collaborate with other entities. The biggest problem they run into is when the business community is asked to pay. May says there are always great ideas, but the question of who will pay for them is always a debate. Some of those ideas include ballot issues, street maintenance tax, economic development, business development expansions, workforce development or I-25 transportation issues have all been talked about with several groups around the region. May says they are always trying to move forward with these issues. He believes the biggest thing is to educate the community by collaborating with other entities.

Mayor Wade Troxell says economic development is the focus. He believes the private, public and university relationships are the key to success. Troxell says providing a platform to help others and creating a culture of innovation will help in not only the business community, but throughout all aspects of the city. He explains university cities are a new destination for business leaders and it provides an opportunity that communities can use as leverage.

City Manager
City Manager Darin Atteberry says the city, county and university all get along. This leads him to believe that it helps the city believe in itself and creates relationships. Atteberry says those relationships are the biggest cause for success.

Atteberry stresses including millennials can lead to great things. He says they want to be part of something great and you can ask them what they want the city to aspire to.

Atteberry says to be a “world-class” community, collaboration is key to getting there. As long as the city can be consistent and an entity that businesses can depend on, they can achieve that “world-class” level.

Wednesday, Oct 5th

Quality of Life: an Employers View

The panel discussion included employers from several businesses. They talked about why they’re located in Fort Collins and how the high quality of life helps them attract and retain employees.

Kory Swanson with University of Colorado Health says Fort Collins is the definition of community. It is a city that is driven on relationships. There are always challenges and UC Health faces them everyday. Some of the challenges they’re facing right now is recruitment of employees because of a skilled workers shortage. Even though this is a national trend, the effects have been felt in Fort Collins. Swanson says there is a lot of competition in healthcare. They don’t have enough people to fill clinical roles so UC Health is recruiting physicians and nurse practitioners to bridge the gap. However, the quality of life in Fort Collins does help with recruitment. They use accolades the city has received to bring in new employees. Also, the affiliation with Colorado State University helps with not only recruitment, but research and innovation.

Tom Campbell with Toolbox Creative says the quality of life is a huge factor to him. He says the slow pace of life, calm lifestyle help him and his company grow, especially since arts and culture are the main focal points of his company. He feels strongly the key is to develop culture and stick with it. Campbell believes culture is driven by the diverse backgrounds of everyone. If you can take hold of those backgrounds and accept them, your overall product will be better. However, Campbell has to deal with his challenges. Some of the challenges he faces is that employees directly out of college aren’t quite ready for workforce and are not willing to stay in Fort Collins. He says a good majority of them end up moving to Denver. Another challenge is dealing with startup companies. Campbell says normally the funds aren’t there and they don’t have a solid marketing plan yet. These companies are important to the economy, but there needs to be something offered to help their ideas grow bigger and come to fruition.

Colorado State University: Collaboration, Innovation, Economic Impact

Colorado State University’s VP of External Relations, Tom Milligan, talked with the delegation about the the university’s role with collaboration with other entities and agencies, innovation and technology transfer and economic impact on the region. He believes everything is a community issue and not just “one person’s problem.” CSU tries to apply a collaborative spirit to the community to come up with solutions and not just the entity. Milligan said this has led to CSU becoming bigger and better in the last decade.

CSU has seen eight straight years of record enrollment. The student body is now up to about 33,000 total students. About 70 percent are from Colorado and 30 percent out-of-state or international. They are looking for more growth in the out-of-state student population. It costs students about $24,000 per year for in state students and about $40,000 for non-resident students. Milligan says Colorado students are going to college, but unfortunately most are going out-of-state.

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery is an unique public-private partnership between a nonprofit and the City of Fort Collins. In 2005, voters in Fort Collins passed a “Building on Basics” tax package, which provided funding for a number of projects, including a piece of the funding for the merger of the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center to create a combined scientific, historical, and cultural resource. Since opening in 2012, about 100,000 visit annually.

Arts and Culture

Fort Collins arts and culture is a deliberate choice. All aspects of the community revolve around the culture they’ve established. Visual arts, performing arts, recreation and natural beauty all create a unique arts and cultural package, which is priority for Fort Collins. Arts and culture mesh with their lifestyle and they believe art is not forced, it’s created.

Real Estate

Representatives from the Fort Collins Board of Realtors and the Ascent Real Estate Professionals talked with the delegation about the current state of real estate in Fort Collins. They say the impact fees are some of least competitive in the nation. Because of that, homes can’t be built in the city limits and you can’t get a new home built for less that $350,000 (standard finishes with an unfinished basement). Representatives say fees for new housing development averages about $60,000.

There are some physical barriers they have to work around. One is Interstate 25 and the other is mountains. Representatives said, for the most part, people aren’t against growth and development, but they don’t want it close to their property. There is room for the city to grow up, but the current ordinances don’t allow for it. This has led to homes being in very close proximity to each other on the outskirts of town. The city desires density, but not by developing up.

The representatives said the average age of the public is about 29 years old. The biggest thing to them is they want the ability to have a community that they can walk through. However, representatives said millennials can’t afford to buy houses. Still, there are about 10,000 people per year moving into the county (about 2,000 per year move to Boone County, per Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill).

Police and Crime

Fort Collins Police Department Lt. Jeremy Yonce said they focus their efforts in downtown during peak hours (Friday and Saturday nights) to keep the rates of calls down. FCPD also has set up substations around the city to cut down on response times. Broken up into 10 districts, each has a lead officer . Yonce said they are trying to create proactive policing and creating strong relationship with community. They utilize Nextdoor App to connect with their districts and let the citizens have some ownership in the community and alert them to suspicious activity. FCPD sets a goal to spend about half of their time on calls and half on community outreach. Yonce said they host the Community Welcome event where police officers, community volunteers and other key leaders go to neighborhoods to better connect with the community. Yonce believes this has helped with citizens taking pride and ownership of the city. Yonce believes All of their efforts have paid off because FCPD has high approval ratings. It has even trickled down within the department. Morale in the FCPD is high. All sworn in police officers receive a car that can be used for personal transportation along with an iPhone 5 that can be used for personal calls as well.

Yonce said they also work with landlords to fix problems with problematic tenants and even offers owners a Crime-Free Leasing program.

Colorado State University also offers assistance to FCPD on calls around campus and downtown. This helps provide a quicker response time and allows for CSU police to develop better relationship with the community and the college students.

“Enforcement alone will never solve our policing & crime issues” Yonce said

Yonce said they also notify CSU when a student is arrested. The Student Code of Conduct has created a low crime rate. Only about 14 percent of students have been arrested while attending CSU.

Yonce said they also have issues with the homeless population. He stated there has been a 50 percent increase on calls related the deal with homeless.

FCPD is was first agency in Colorado to make body cameras mandatory.

Downtown Showcase

Fort Collins Planning Manager, Cameron Gloss, gave the delegation an in-depth look at what downtown Fort Collins offers with historic and new development in the downtown area and their plans for zoning, parking and funding.

Gloss said they want to have developmental themes for downtown:

  • Pedestrian Oriented
  • Unique
  • Inclusive
  • Innovative

Plan is to setup:

  • Principles/Urban Design
  • Transportation and Parking
  • Arts and Culture – more performing arts events than Boulder and Colorado Springs combined
  • Energy & Environment
  • Management & Maintenance

Gloss said they do have parking issues. Right now, they desire to have free street parking and they have almost three parking garages. Gloss knows they will need to build more parking, but they’re finding it hard to justify to citizens when people don’t use what is currently available. Gloss said they want to get the public’s input on what to do.

CSU has its own parking structures, but the city and university both work on master plans together. Parking enforcement becomes an issue in residential areas near campus. Students don’t want to pay for on-campus parking so they park in neighborhoods. The city and university are working together to combat the issue.

Gloss said as far as development goes, there is a bedroom count per unit which is less than rest of community. It’s not ideal, but it does work for the downtown area. Some ways to continue development is to have a transportation capital expansion fee that each developer pays. It will go into a fund for all improvements.

Gloss said the ultimate plan is to start being proactive with their planning because they fell into the trap of being too reactive. Gloss believes if they start being proactive then it helps them be more flexible.

Hot Topics: Local Issues

Members of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce Local Legislative Affairs Committee discussed the local key issues.

The committee members said the community is facing a lot of issues with development. The key is to keep an open dialogue with city leaders and let them know the business perspective. However, getting any project approved is always challenging. They are constantly working to fix the process.

Another challenge is growth, not only from the city, but geographical. Current ordinances make it nearly impossible to build up. That becomes a problem because they have barriers like mountains and I-25. The panel agreed growth has to happen, but they need to find a balance between their desires and what the city wants. They said the relationships they’ve developed with city staff have helped find some of those balances.

The hottest topics right now are transportation and city fees/taxes. The way they are going to get answers to these problems is by building and maintaining relationships. Panel members said they need to constantly remind the city that business matters.

Committee members say they have into three teams to be more efficient and effective with issues:

  • Local
  • Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance
  • Election Committee

The panel said affordable housing is something they’re always talking about. “Average and younger individuals” can’t afford to live in Fort Collins. There are options, but the people in the middle-class are moving to the outskirts of town. The Chamber has pushed for a review of policy to new home development and Colorado law that deals with construction defect.

Members said legalizing marijuana has caused issues on the local and state level. Employers are running into issues with things like drug testing and the fact that cash can’t go through banks. Some other issues that have come up include landlords not having policies against drugs or smoking, zoning codes may or may not allow certain businesses in certain areas, insurance liabilities, underwriting and tax benefits. Marijuana dispensaries are allowed to be chamber members, but they can’t be sponsors for events due to federal laws.

Committee members say the minimum wage is also a problem. It costs $17 – 20 per hour to live in Fort Collins. Currently minimum wage is $9.20 per hour. The Fort Collins Area Chamber opposes an increase, but there is a transition in place for it to be $12 by 2020. They’ve been through this before in 2006. The Fort Collins Chamber believes the increase will raise the bottom line and the cost of living.

Innovation in Action: The Powerhouse

The Colorado State University Powerhouse Energy Campus is a nearly 100,000 square-foot LEED Platinum energy research complex, home to numerous research and policy centers, laboratories and start-ups and is the headquarters of the Energy Institute. The campus is a public, private partnership between the City of Fort Collins, Colorado State University and private companies developing engine and other technologies for consumers. Adventures in Energy Innovation-Bryan Wilson, Director CSU Energy Institute

Wilson said when the Fort Collins Power Plant was abandoned in 1992, they asked to use the building. That turned out to be the best decision they made because they have expanded and grown exponentially ever since. This campus-operated facility is funded by donors.

Wilson said it features an electric grid lab, wind energy, heavy duty lab, solar research, radiant heating and cooling, LED lighting and geothermal energy. He said the goal is to be a zero energy district. The more than 60,000 square feet facility makes it the largest of its kind. It allows them to do work that leads to business and job creation. It also brings new ideas with tons of collaboration.

Wilson said they have national partnerships to help with different aspects. National Pipeline Association, John Deere, CAT and various science groups. They also have small partnerships with startups.

Wilson explained the building itself is an experiment. The LEED platinum building, 26 miles of plastic tubing, only one room with AC & heating- the rest of the building uses alternate energy sources. This has led to many ideas to work off of.

They also have a great relationship with the university and training students for careers in this industry.

Thursday, Oct 6th

Transportation on Parade

This session incorporated a variety of transportation related topics and showcased efforts by the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County, Chamber and others to impact the community. Speakers touched on a variety of transportation issues and challenges they face.

The biggest thing for the community is to make sure there is access from all areas to downtown Denver and especially the airport. I-25 is critical to livelihood and commerce of Colorado. However, the area is facing problems like:

  • Growth/need
  • Cost ($15 million)
  • No stable funding source (gas tax- 22.5 gas tax, 20.5 diesel tax)

Panel members said an alliance and leadership council were created to help accomplish the mission to secure funding, widen roads, improve safety, keep up on maintenance and future needs. The goal is to accomplish all of these tasks by 2025. To date, they have gotten $158 million restored to general fund committed to highways. The groups also have a presence at the Colorado Capitol during the legislative session. Members said the main goal is to keep attention on transportation funding. This has to be a collaborative effort between the Colorado Department of Transportation, governor’s office, Chamber, business community and local government.

The transit system was brought to the community as a transportation alternative. It was looked at as an economic development opportunity. There was a lot of undeveloped land that could help connect people to business, people to school and people to government. It is now the third largest transit system in Colorado with 3 million riders annually. There are still challenges because citizens want to extend it and the funding source is the city’s general fund. CSU students, faculty and staff get a transit card. City employees get transit cards too. The fare for all rides is $1.25. Unfortunately, it is not self sufficient. It costs $14 million annually with 75 percent coming from the city’s general fund.

The panel said the Fort Collins Moves program mission is to get more people on bikes, make it easier and safer for all, sustainability and have transportation available for all. To complete the mission, bike share stations have been set up along corridor with two goals:

  • By 2020, 1 in 5 (20%) ridership (up from 7%)
  • Bring fatalities to zero and reduce injuries

Our Time in Fort Collins: What Did We Learn and What Will We Take Back?

The final session of the trip was a wrap up session. Board chairman, Rusty Strodtman, discussed the key points that were taken from the trip. The group talked about what they learned and how they could implement it back in Columbia. The Chamber will be holding a wrap up meeting in about one month to continue the conversation about the ideas taken from this trip. Thank you to everyone that made this the best Leadership Visit yet.


Presented by: Forum Development Group

Appreciation Dinner Sponsor: AT&T

Welcome Reception Sponsor: Commerce Bank

Breifing Book, Nametag, & Gift Sponsor: Columbia Mall

Gold Sponsors: Jes Holdings, LLC, Maly Commercial Realty, Inc, Veterans United Home Loans

Silver Sponsor: University of Missouri Operations

Lunch Sponsor: Providence Bank

Breakfast Sponsor: Huebert Builders, Inc.
Transportation Sponsors: Boone Electric Cooperative and First State Community Bank

Video Sponsor: Word Marketing


300 S Providence Rd
PO Box 1016
Columbia, Mo 65205