Friday, December 3, 2010

Eco-devo transition to start in mid-December

Colorado small businesses are being hit with unemployment-insurance rate hikes that sometimes quadruple their quarterly payments, according to Steve Raabe, writing today in the Denver Post. "Our hands effectively are tied," Don Mares told Raabe.

Mares is executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the agency notifying business owners of the higher insurance premiums. He has called together a task force to suggest reforms for the Colorado Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, according to Raabe's story. The fund is the state's pool of money to pay unemployment-benefit checks. Colorado is already on the hook to the federal government for $368.5 million borrowed this year to pay benefits.

One of the members of that task force should be Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper's new director of the state's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, if Hickenlooper decides to appoint a new one.

Hickenlooper's transition team will begin rolling out a shape for his new administration about mid-month, spokesman Eric Brown said this week. What shape that takes around economic development is probably the top concern of the Colorado business community.

I once had hoped to join Gov. Bill Ritter's economic-development team. I can't say I'm glad I did not, but the four years I've had to think about it certainly fed my fantasies about what an effective economic-development team should be doing:

Like finding a way -- and the money -- for the state and its local governments to offer incentives to businesses to locate here. Big business fosters the growth of small businesses in a regional economy, and small businesses provide any economy the most jobs.

Or like being an advocate for the nearly 500,000 small businesses in the state, including more than 350,000 sole proprietors if they have survived the last two years of national recession.

Or like promoting the use of instate small-business vendors to do much of the work the state contracts out to private business. That work in the past has been valued at  more than $4 billion annually. So there's a lot of job creation built into that money.

Or like advocating the growth of women-owned and minority-owned businesses in order to correct a lopsided disparity of such firms among the state's contractor corps. Facilitating the use of such firms by large businesses in Colorado as well as by state and local government units would help strengthen the state's economy at the core of its small-business community.

Or like acting as a mediator for small businesses among state agencies like the labor department when decisions are made that affect a small-business owner's livelihood. The OEDIT director or his representative could ensure that small-business owners are given some consideration prior to boosting fees and raising premiums.

Or like advocating for the general business position among state agencies, boards and commissions when other special interests like labor unions and environmentalists try to influence regulatory decisions.

Last summer, the Denver Post published a story that suggested economic-development efforts in Colorado needed an overhaul.  Over the last four years, the state's economic-development office has seemed almost dormant. And advocating for anything through a state agency is often viewed in Colorado as some sort of blasphemy.

But the time is right for allowing such intra-government lobbying. Ritter got in trouble with the state's business community almost as quickly as he took office, and then spent the rest of his four years trying to make up for it -- only to offend the labor community as he did so.

Today's Post also carried an item that said Pamela Reichert, director of the trade office within OEDIT, was taking a position with the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., signalling the exodus of state officials that usually follows a change of administration. Hickenlooper would be wise to consider some holdovers, but not necessarily in the OEDIT. 

Appointments in that office will signal to the business community what kind of governor the people of Colorado traded for Ritter. Business friendly but also a friend to working men and women? Over the past four years those two positions were made to look antithetical. They are not.

All the people of Colorado ought to benefit from electing a new governor.  

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