Friday, August 14, 2009

South Colo. schools first piece of recovery pie

San Luis Valley schools are to get the first $87 million from a state/federal capital construction program that could help put Southern Colorado small businesses to work.

No one has said anything yet, but it's no coincidence that the governor's "economic recovery team" kicked off a statewide tour in Trinidad, San Luis, Walsenburg and Pueblo to promote small-business and minority-business involvement in contracts that are being cut with stimulus funds coming from the Obama administration.

"Leveraging the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds is one way to help Colorado emerge from this economic downturn faster and stronger," Gov. Bill Ritter said in a statement announcing the tour, led earlier this week by Maranda Pleau, the governor's director of Minority and Small Business Outreach for the state's recovery team.

On Thursday, two days after Pleau first met with small business people on the tour, State Treasurer Cary Kennedy announced the $87 million in financing for school construction between the towns of Hooper and Mosca in Alamosa County, in Alamosa itself, and outside Monte Vista in Rio Grande County.

Pleau answered her own phone when I called her Friday morning shortly before a scheduled staff meeting, but she begged off talking to me about the relationship between the tour and the school-construction funding, saying she had the staff meeting to go to, but also that whatever she had to say had to be cleared through her communications director.

As I said, I have not talked with the outreach director yet, but she said she would be happy to share her thoughts on the subject. I sent her an e-mail asking what she is telling small business owners in the region where the funds are being spent, especially since it's known that few minority-owned businesses have in the past enjoyed participation in large state contracts for capital construction, road building and the like.

Pleau's appointment, in some ways, was a response to complaints from some leaders of the minority business community in metro Denver that minority-owned businesses weren't getting many state contracts, or even encouragement, after two years of Gov. Ritter's adminstration.

Specifically, the Colorado Black Roundtable met with Ritter in February to share concerns that the state was effectively "missing in action" for the first two years of Ritter government when it came to economic development of African-American owned businesses in Colorado, according to Herman Malone, a Republican who attended the session with the Democratic governor.

"He was telling us what he couldn't do," said Malone, who also is my co-author in writing the book "Lynched by Corporate America," which was published in 2006.

Andre Pettigrew, executive director of the city of Denver's Office of Economic Development, told me he hoped Pleau's appointment to the economic recovery team was partly a response to that meeting, although the appointment didn't come until mid-summer.

"I'd like to think the governor, Don Elliman [former state economic development director and now chief operating officer of the state] and that team," Pettigrew said, "that they went out and listened to businesses in our community, that they knew there was an opportunity and an expectation that those communities were going to contribute" to the state's economic recovery.

" ... Our success is going to be measured on whether or not these businesses, these contractors are growing, that they are a vital part of it," Pettigrew said.

Elliman also is chair of the Colorado Economic Recovery Accountability Board, which Ritter appointed to oversee the spending of federal stimulus money. Pettigrew is a member of the board, too, and he told me he has addressed the board on the issue of minority-business participation in spending the government funds.

Pleau's responsibility is to see that minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, and other small businesses are included. Let's hope the small business owners she meets with on the recovery team's tour around the state listen up and make sure they get a piece of the action.

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