Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lump of coal

The Denver Post delivered a lump of coal in its editorial pages on Sunday, an op-ed piece by Daniel Firger who gave "Colorado citizens" some bad advice.

"What can be done?" Firger asks rhetorically about improving Colorado's already limited dependence on coal as an energy source. "Colorado citizens can push to phase out dirty coal, not just in the state's power plants but also in its mines and transmission lines. ... No state is better suited to lead this charge."


Colorado ought to be leading the charge to use every energy source available to it not only to wean the United States off foreign sources of energy, but also to solve the world's climate problems by cleaning up its continued use of all fossil fuels.

Firger, associate director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York, offers faint praise to the state for its efforts to clean up its energy markets, but suggests it go further to eliminate "dirty coal" from its industry mix.


Firger evidently missed James Fallows' article in the December Atlantic Monthly that recognizes "dirty coal" will continue to be a worldwide source of energy and should be as long as efforts continue to clean up its dump of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It's cheap and provides jobs worldwide, including in Colorado.

Colorado Public Utilities Commissioners also must have missed the article before voting earlier this month to force Xcel Energy to reduce its use of coal to fire up six metro-area power plants. Not that the vote isn't healthy for the state; it just seemed uninformed.

Colorado coal miners would argue that technology is catching up to a sustainable use of coal to produce electricity -- adding that jobs and wages could be preserved if state officials would take cognizance of such developments.

Environmentalists in Colorado tend to be all-or-nothing types, and their influence on state government has been overwrought for the past four years. For the new Hickenlooper administration, it's time to balance that act.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Starting up a small-business chamber

Chaos. That's how John Wren, a long-time small-business advocate in metro Denver, describes his recent attempts to start a new group, a Small Business Chamber of Commerce. It could eventually go statewide.

Wren obtained the registered name for the Small Business Chamber of Commerce recently, and wanted to add the new group to the collection of entities he uses to help small business owners talk out their problems and processes. So far, those groups include regular sessions of the Idea Cafe, when speakers share their startup experiences, and Franklin Circles, named after Ben, which gather active entrepreneurs together.

So he started a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=145283622175466&ref=ts, and put a meeting notice in the Denver Post that quickly gathered more than 700 prospective chamber members, and called down the Facebook security gods in the process to slow down his explosive recruitment.

Wren called it "Facebook crankiness," but his formation of the chamber goes on, and the quick response he has received suggests the hunger in Colorado for some kind of effective small-business leadership. 

There's no telling how it will all work out for Wren. He is hyper-active promoting his meetings on Facebook, Twitter, in the newspaper, and any other venue he can reach; but he told me he has "some people" working on taming the Internet glut he has going currently. That might also hone the mission of the new chamber as well as the services it might be able to offer small businesses.

He said the ultimate goal of the chamber is to lower Colorado's unemployment rate through small-buisness hiring. If you want to join the crowd, go to the URL shown above and sign up.

If you want to go to a meeting, attend the gathering at Panera Bread, East 13th Avenue and Grant Street, near downtown, at 2 p.m. Friday.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pike Research, a worldwide toddler

In less than two years, Pike Research in Boulder has grown legs in the clean-tech analyst industry, and toddled off to Washington D.C., London, South Korea and other parts of the Asia/Pacific.

Clint Wheelock, founder and the sole principal of the firm, says the company is doing that with about 40 people, 25 full-time employees and another 15 contractors. That's a small business that the new governor's economic-development administration should keep an eye on.

"Things have really been moving quickly," said Wheelock, after announcing the opening of the Washington office last week. "Faster than I orginally thought," and despite the national and global recessions.

But clean-tech, a worldwide industry that itself is in its infancy, is like that. Reaching out, growing fast, and learning quickly, without much help from any particular mentor, unless the Chinese government can be considered some kind of rich uncle.

Pike Research, according to its own press releases, "is a market research and consulting firm that provides in-depth analysis of global clean technology markets ... [including the] Smart Energy, Clean Transportation, Clean Industry and Building Efficiency sectors."

Wheelock said the opening of offices in Washington and London adds the fuel-cells sector to the firm's expertise. It's "a big new focus for us, and although fuel cells have been around for a long time, we really think the industry is on the cusp of some real growth -- for probably the first time, despite a lot of (earlier)talk."

"We have specialists in smart-grid and renewable energy, and in energy-efficient buildings and in clean transportation, including electric vehicles and other alternate-fuel vehicles," Wheelock said.

The analysts write research reports that include market size for a particular area of clean-tech operations, like software for smart-grid electricity distribution, Pike's latest research report. The reports estimate current and future market size and segmentation. That latest report, for example, predicts software and services for smart-grid technology will increase from a "relatively small" $356 million annual market in 2010 to $4.2 billion in annual revenue by 2015.

Pike sells that kind of advice in a single report -- "What we call a basic license and which is essentially one to five users within an organization," Wheelock said -- for $3,500. "There's also an enterprise license for large companies that want to post it on their corporate intranet, and that's typically 1.5 times the basic license, so in a typical case it would be $5,250" for an enterprise.

Pike sells its large clients subsciptions that allow access to its analysts for consulting and custom research. Wheelock said the "bulk" of the firm's revenue comes from subscription sales.

"A lot of the larger clients," he said, "are the large multi-national technology and energy companies that have an ongoing need for this, and so they'll sign up for a subscription or multiple subscriptions."

Opening the Washington office has been on Wheelock's radar since he started the company with his own savings. A London office is also in the future, and probably South Korea, Wheelock said.

Big market-research firms have retrenched during the economic downturn, he noted, but that has given Pike an opportunity to establish itself as a brand name for clean-tech analysis.

"The level of competitive intensity is very low, and much lower than I expected," he said. "One of the key things that we're trying to do is take advantage of that competitive vacuum and really assert ourselves as the authority on several of these key emerging areas....

"I absolutely anticipate that there will be a lot more intense competition in a couple of years, and I think we're just trying to get ourselves in a good position as the leader in the States before that happens," Wheelock said.

"It seems to be working very well."

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.