A year ago this week, we gave a rundown of the just-launched "We Think Local" campaign. It had a lofty goal of stimulating thousands of new local jobs, we explained, by simply encouraging people to "think local before they purchase, hire, fly, eat and more."
Twelve months later, it's like the program has gone stealth.
Taking a stroll through the heart of downtown along Tejon Street, between Colorado Avenue and Bijou Street, we found not a single "We Think Local" sign. Not at Jack Quinn Irish Alehouse and Pub. Not at the Ritz Grill. Not at the banks. Not at the coffee shops. Not even at the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce office at Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue.
We finally got lucky at the offices of the campaign's architect, the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., though the receptionist had to fish one from a back room. "We just moved," she said apologetically.
Chamber and EDC board chair Doug Quimby is serving as interim CEO for the recently merged groups. We asked Quimby how many people and businesses had signed the "Think Local" resolution on the EDC's website. He didn't know.
We asked what we should do to find out. "Nothing," he said. "If you're asking me what I think you should do, it's not report anything. We don't have the information to evaluate the program." He said he'd try to run down some kind of data for us; we didn't hear back before deadline.
Interestingly, numbers from local governments — who signed resolutions of support for the program — suggest they're serious about the "buy local" idea.
In 2010, El Paso County spent 71 percent with local businesses, or $72.8 million, of the total spent on contracts. Last year, the county spent 80.1 percent with local vendors, or $77.6 million, of all money spent on contracts.
At the city, $53.8 million, or 46 percent of the total spent on contracts in 2010 went to local vendors; this year, the cut was 55 percent, or $58.35 million.
"As we go through the year and we talk to these groups and encourage people to propose, we tell them, 'You may be ranked higher for being in Colorado Springs,'" procurement services manager Curt DeCapite says. The city focuses on "best value," he says, which can mean a local firm wins the bid if other factors are equal.
County spokesman Dave Rose says the county had tried to do business with local firms, but the EDC program prompted more outreach to encourage local firms to bid.
The buy-local rationale apparently is embraced by Colorado Springs Utilities, too. City Council, which doubles as the Utilities Board, has stressed local spending for more than six years, says Utilities Chief Planning and Finance Officer Bill Cherrier. In 2010, 40.7 percent of Utilities contracts went to local vendors; through the third quarter of 2011, the most recent available, 37.4 percent did. The Utilities Board goal is 30 percent.
"We have been focused on it all along," he says. "We fully support it and agree with it and have been living it."
So it's a little puzzling why Quimby is so cool to the idea.
Though he calls it "worthwhile," Quimby adds, "I don't think that's going to be one of our high-priority programs. There are other programs we're working on that will have a greater potential to move the needle on the economic well-being of the community."
Asked what those are, he refuses to discuss them, saying they're not yet ready for prime time.