Monday, February 28, 2011

Romero promises economic development across state agencies

Dwayne Romero, the state's new economic development director, officially resigns from his seat as an Aspen city councilman today and has promised a cross-agency approach to economic development problems like mountain congestion on Interstate 70.

"I think that's an integrated approach, a cross-sectional, cross-agency state of mind, and a philosophical approach to how this particular administration chooses to pursue its work," Romero said in an interview last week.

I asked him whether he considers taking part in the decade-long discussion over how to fix I-70 congestion, largely the purview of the Colorado Department of Transportation, was a legitimate role for the director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

"I do," said Romero. "You know traffic and congestion around I-70 isn't going to go away overnight," he said. "These are difficult, meaty, hairy issues." And I-70 traffic cannot be considered a narrow concern for just transportation experts.

"It clearly feeds jobs in the tourism economy," he said. "Every time a new business looks to the state, they measure things like the strength of our infrastructure, and how well it's adapted to, and it services our constituents," he said. "And choke points along I-70 do not help that story."

I asked him the question because I have long considered the economic development director to be in a unique position to influence practically any state government undertaking, since any new government undertaking is going to involve private businesses as contractors.

From straightening out the human-services department's computer problems, to building a transmission line across the state, to fixing the state's roads and bridges, government agencies don't do the work itself, but hire and pay private contractors to do it.

But hiring private contractors in Colorado has long been a convoluted and time-wasting (therefore money-wasting) process that often discourages local small businesses and even medium-sized firms from taking part. Romero would do well to involve his department in reforming that area of state government as well. Or at least inject itself into reforms on the side of small businesses and all Colorado companies.

Romero said during the interview that OEDIT, his department, will also be greatly concerned with carrying out Gov. John Hickenlooper's primary dictate to all state agencies, which, in Romero's words, is: "Getting our budget balanced and at the same time focus on how we improve the performance of government."

"We understand that at the state level we need to make sure that our government is run like a very effective business, and we're responsible for our revenues, and we're responsible for the delivery of our services," he said. He wants small business and all business across the state to respect the administration's business-like efficiency, and gain enough confidence in Colorado's economy to add jobs and grow.

That will require his department and other state agencies to craft "efficiencies and economies that help, if you will, deliver more effectively on the services that we provide, perhaps at a slightly less dollar value," suggesting a tightening of the state workforce in order to meet budget demands.

"That's where I would rely on my private-sector, small-business and business management experience," he said when I asked whether new duties would not stretch his current department's staffing requirements.

"No," he said. "That concept of dropping or diluting to zero other initiatives or other focuses is just foreign to me. You know, when you make priorities, you focus your resources and energies. Really strong leadership would suggest you still are able to perform your other missions and your other capacities. Having a priority of effort is what small business has to do every day." 

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