Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Microgrids grow energy independence

Being energy independent by becoming your own distributor of electricity is an idea spreading among college campus administrators and the military -- to the point that soldiers in Afghanistan are already creating their own battlefield microgrids, according to an expert who predicts a 164 percent growth in generation capacity for campus microgrids over the next six years.

Yet the U.S. commercial/industrial sector, which includes large and small businesses that could benefit from generating and distributing their own power, is the least active of five industry groups in the developing market for microgrids, which Peter Asmus, a San Francisco-based analyst for Boulder's Pike Research, estimates will reach $777 million by 2017 for campus microgrids alone.

Commerical/industrial, especially small business, is "lagging a little bit" compared with other sectors' investigations of the benefits of microgrids and distributed power generation, Asmus said. "They're waiting for these [methods] to be validated," he said.

I wrote about Pike Research on this blog a little more than a year ago, and find its spotlight on cleantech markets a fascinating look into the future of American business. It also suggests promising markets for small businesses hoping to become vendors and suppliers to the bigger players in cleantech industries. Or to become bigger players themselves.

Asmus said distributed energy -- the local generation of power to serve onsite users, a long standing practice of college campuses using diesel fuel to generate power and now renewable sources like wind and solar -- is still "a small piece of the energy portfolio," but microgrids for distribution of such energy are increasingly considered adjunct enterprises to protect institutions from blackouts and sometimes to sell energy to create revenue.

"In the U.S.," Asmus said, "utilities will pay people to go off their systems" during peak periods in order to preserve capacity for their own customers.

Military bases in the U.S. are especially sensitive to power outages and are seeking to create their own microgrids to avoid dependence on a supplier subject to shortages. Asmus said soldiers in Afghanistan are already using "mobile" grids they can set up out of backpacks in the field.

Asmus' report suggests five groups of power users investigating greater use of microgrids: campus users (which includes business parks, college campuses, and large-company campuses); the military; remote users (mostly in developing countries that lack nationwide power grids for distribution); community/utilities (which are popular in Europe, especially in countries like Denmark which draws 25 percent of its total energy from wind); and finally commerical/industrial in the United States. He said some utilities in the U.S. are beginning to see the wisdom of creating microgrids for servicing customers off the national power grid.

Creating a microgrid is "relatively easy" when there is a single owner involved. Multiple owners of a grid, such as the many firms located in a business park, are more difficult to service and regulate.

By 2017, Asmus estimates installed generation capacity for microgrids will increase 164 percent from 620 megawatts to 1.6 gigawatts, with most of that coming from the campus sector worldwide.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Voters can save America

It's not often that news, analysis and even your friends' opinions converge to make clear what's been happening to make the American voter so damned mad!

Here's Floyd Norris from the New York Times on Sunday:

"In the eight decades before the recent recession, there was never a period when as much as 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product went to companies in the form of after-tax profits. Now the figure is over 10 percent. During the same period, there never was a quarter when wage and salary income amounted to less than 45 percent of the economy. Now the figure is below 44 percent."

Here's Benjamin Wallace-Wells in a New York magazine profile of Mitt Romney's record as an executive at Bain Capital, a company he helped create:

"Romney was also a business revolutionary. Our economy went through a remarkable shift during the eighties as Wall Street reclaimed control of American business and sought to remake it in its own image. Romney developed one of the tools that made this possible, pioneering the use of takeovers to change the way a business functioned, remaking it in the name of efficiency."

And here is Tim Correll, a lawyer friend of mine who has a sharp eye for what is happening as the sand washes out from under the feet of middle class America:

"I've had it with these class villains who argue that the one percent are 'job creators' who won't create jobs if they get a tax increase. For starters, lets note that entrepreneurs don't create jobs, consumers create jobs. Our greatest job growth over an extended priod of time took place from 1950 to 1980. During that time the top marginal tax rate was ninety, yes, that's right, NINETY, percent -- 90%, but we had soldiers coming home, unemployed men who were skilled in the scutty blue-collar skills of war, but we funded the GI bill (with those taxes on the one percent) and those GIs went to school and bought houses and spent money and the economy grew and grew and grew. (I'm 67 years old and through all my growing up years I never saw a year where my father -- a university professor -- didn't get a raise.) and things just kept getting better. We built the interstate highway system, creating huge winners in the petroleum and automobile industry, cars went from $500 to $3,000, and gas went from $0.15 a gallon to $0.85 a gallon, and families went from riding buses to buying homes with two cars in the garage. That's what it was like when we built a nation where the cost was shared based upon everyone's ability to pay. Tax those constipated assholes that have no patriotism, no loyalty and think of no one but themselves, and -- you know what -- we'll be the better country we used to be, and they'll still make money."

I find it "amusing," as my friend Ken Bugosh would say, watching media types like Charlie Rose trying to make sense of the Occupy Wall Street movement when the destruction of the middle class has been a two-decade process that was hardly invisible. "News to me!" the mainstream media is saying now, which is as much a symptom of that industry's decline as is the fact I now read the Denver Post online.

News becomes news nowadays only when New York, and, yes, Wall Street, finally notices. But it takes good journalists like Norris to document the little recognized, big-picture facts that accumulate along the way of a nation's decline. And by documenting them, make possible the opportunity for the nation to react to such statistics.

It takes American politicians, however, much too long to read the tea leaves and actually enact legislation to change the things that are happening to us. And yet, if only the political elite would wake up to voters' needs, even our current Congress and state legislature in Colorado still have time to make important changes that will shape our future.

The Romney profile was the first piece of journalism I have seen that actually showed why and how he became a wealthy businessman, a credit he now claims qualifies him to become the next president. But the story shows, too, just how souless Romney's policy making becomes because he values the American investor over the American worker.

Yesterday, I asked a Hispanic receptionist at a business I was visiting whether she would vote for Obama, and she quickly shook her head: no, no, no. I left saying, Well, don't forget who you will be voting for then!

If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee opposing Obama's re-election, then perhaps the stark difference between a president who cares for all the American people and a candidate whose life has demonstrated his disregard for common people and overwrought concern for the wealthy will be prominently illustrated by the television campaign ads sure to accompany the 2012 election campaign.

Let's hope so. Because news and analysis and even the opinions of friends converge to provide a stark illustration of what truly is happening in America today. The nation's common-man soul is being crushed by the success of wealth in these United States.

Only the American voter can reverse that tragic trend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Out with a tumor

I'm sitting at my computer on the day after a thoracic surgeon, John D. Mitchell, took out a relatively large colorectal tumor from my trachea, and I've been left wondering if all the muscle soreness in my body (as if at age 64 and totally out of shape I had just played in a two-hour pick-up, touch football game) is the result of not taking the heavy pain killers they usually give you after a major surgery?

Is that the pain they are trying to kill? Is it pain that results from full-body anesthesia? No matter where the surgery?

Because that's most of the pain I am feeling today on the day after. A mild sore throat, and little chest pain, but they pulled the tumor (literally) from the wall of the trachea and kept me overnight at the University of Colorado Cancer Center to make sure they didn't also pull out a hole in the trachea wall, which would have caused me further problems.

They did the work with a bronchoscope and had they accidentally pulled open a hole in the wall of the tube from my throat to my lungs, they would have had to split open my chest to go in and repair it. That's why I am home today; they did not open a hole, and I was released this morning as my over-all-aching increased by the minute.

But this has been the latest chapter in my fight from the Chemo Room against this four-and-a-half- year-old case of colorectal cancer.

The tumor grew in my throat while I was enrolled in a clinical trial testing a drug that had mild-to- moderate side effects and held most of the rest of the many tumors in my lungs and chest in check during the test. But then I started coughing badly, they ran a CT scan and looked closely, and ordered up the bronchoscopy.

So now I've been dropped from the trial because it was clear the drug I was receiving and have written about here before wasn't doing as good a job as we were thinking it was doing. But the trachea is a strange place for colorectal cancer to matastisize, so you can probably blame my individual cancer for the unexpected response to the drug.

The good thing is they found the tumor before it stopped my breathing altogether; they learned a little something about the drug; I'm breathing better now and no longer coughing as much. The bad thing is the tumor could grow back from the place where it was taken from, and the rest of the cancer mets (metastases) remain in my lungs and chest cavity (lymph nodes) and must be dealt with.

So you could call this chapter of In the Chemo Room, 'In, Out and Back Into the Chemo Room' because that's where I'm destined to return. As soon as all these aches and pains go away and my body heals from the surgery.

Dr. Wells Messersmith, my oncologist now, said he'd find a new way to treat me, which probably will involve a new clinical trial. But that's what the Cancer Center has come to be known for nationally in a very short time.

And that's why Mitchell, one of the nation's best thoracic surgeons I am told, is working there on patients like me. You can't say I'm not getting the best of care. And so are hundreds and hundreds of others who are passing through the center's gates.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Precision toolmaker wants to keep hiring

Patrick Stacy has hired five new employees, including an engineer, in the last three months. "I'm a toolmaker," he said. "My mentor used to say a toolmaker's job is never done."

Stacy Machine & Tooling in Broomfield has grown over 30 years from a  a one-man shop in Boulder to a $2 million, computer-aided-design and computer-aided-manufacturing shop with 21 employees and an owner who wants to make it bigger.

Stacy is one of those small-business owners defended by Republicans who argue against any increase in taxes by saying it will keep small businesses from hiring new people.

And yet Pat Stacy, who reached the ranks of the wealthy business owner only in 2011, his best year ever, still plans to expand and grow if only banks will help him finance the growth.

He says he has plenty of demand. "Global warming's been very good" to the instrument manufacturers that supply the research industries around Boulder, Stacy says. "Demand is coming from funding through the government," he added. "NASA contracts, Department of Energy contracts, Department of Defense contracts, all of these special research projects that are going on for the green stuff. We don't see a lot of green or solar; but we're just starting to see some of that."

Testimony, I guess, to the effectiveness of the stimulus spending that has been denigrated for three years of the Obama administration.

But Stacy's very success meeting that demand has now put him on President Obama's "hit list," he said. His income and profits this year will push through the $250,000 level that has long been considered a break point for increasing taxes on the wealthy.

"I'm finally getting to be where the politicians start taking aim," he said. But he said that's a problem 30 years in the making, and one most small business owners would welcome as a mark of achievement. It forces them to make decisions, however.

Most business owners struggle all their lives to get to a point where their business generates a little personal wealth -- "the time you're almost successful and actually get to be a player," Stacy said -- but then the "compromises" every business owner makes get a little more complicated.

Do you take a tax break that gains you the $60,000 you might plow back into your business for a new employee or a new piece of equipment? Or do you take it as a bonus or a raise, and bump up your tax liability.

"Growing a business, you're always making compromises," Stacy said. And growing his business, even after 30 years, is still Pat Stacy's primary goal for Stacy Manufacturing. His current plant at 2810 Industrial Lane in Broomfield is leased to buy, and the property has plenty of ground for expansion.

But banks for the past three years have not been willing to lend small business the money they need to to expand, he says. "These banks are all paralyzed. They will not loan money."

"Until they can get the banks to let go and finance people like me and people like a lot of other people who are highly leveraged in their business ...," Stacy says his voice trailing off.

"I'm up to here in debt," he said, "I've always been up to here in debt." But his business and others "still survive" and he believes "the rules have to change a little bit" to allow a real recovery to gain any momentum.

Pat Stacy got his degree in political science so he watches the way political winds blow, and he's not afraid to express his opinions.

"I love history, politics and all the other things of the world," he said, and it would seem some of those wider interests keep firing the childhood mechanical curiosity that lured him into the precision tooling business he has created. Hear the poetry in this description of one machine's operations:

"This eight-thousanths diameter copper wire, it cuts this underwater, deionized water.... you program it, you make a little fixture, you put it up there and you watch that little wire go cut it underneath the water with a beautiful blue flame, a blue arc."

Or in this position on Wall Street financiers vs. small business owners:

"If you're a stock broker and you're making deals and never get out of your seat and you make a quarter million dollars or a million dollars, should that be taxed a little different than maybe the money I make as a manufacturer, or as a farmer would make, or another kind of small business guy?"

Or: "Now you can put motives into the banking industry, whatever your want. You can put motives of: 'Hey, they're not lending money because they want to see Obama fail ... ' (but) the bottom line is the banks have money, somebody has money, and they're not lending it unless you're so rich you've got money coming out of your pockets."

There is a table in the front lobby of Pat Stacy's manufacturing plant; it's crowded with stainless steel and titanium parts he says he and his employees have made that now fly in space or rest in the joints of people who have had body parts replaced. On a wall nearby is his company's ISO certification, and you can tell Pat Stacy is pretty proud of the business he has made.

You can tell, too, that if he gets some financing he's going to make Stacy Manufacturing bigger by filling out his current second shift or by buying some newer machine to replace some of the "ancient" 1991 models his workers now use.

You can tell that because, even if he has made the politicians' "hit list" and his hard-earned "wealth" remains always at risk, Stacy believes what his mentor taught him long ago:

"A toolmaker's work is never done." 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Online startup: Colorado Business Express

The state this week launched Colorado Business Express, an online business registration service where budding business owners can file the state documents required to open up shop.

John D. Conley, executive director of the Statewide Internet Portal Authority, which overlooks the official website for Colorado, said five new businesses jumped on the service the first day it went live during a soft launch before Monday's formal start.

"People found it without us doing any type of advertising, which to us shows the demand is there," Conley said. "Especially in this economy, people are creating their own businesses, starting their own businesses" but "not being able to afford a business-filing attorney, (they) are trying to get through it on their own."

Conley said it took nine to twelve months to launch the service, which reversed the approach to online filings offered by three state agencies -- the Secretary of State, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor and Employment -- from an agency perspective, where forms served the agency's purpose of data entry, to the perspective of a user.

"That's why we went with the wizard approach," he said, "where the small business owner for the first time only has to focus on answering the questions. They don't have to understand the regulatory language or the red tape, if you will."

I tried the wizard briefly and found it takes you nicely to the places where you want to go, including the Internal Revenue Service for a tax ID if you need one. Once you move off the state pages, however, following things like IRS instructions remain as traditionally confusing as ever.

But state documentation remains easy. You have to have an already established business or trade name to follow the wizards, but if you don't have that, the Express will take you to the Secretary of State's website to get one for $1. The site's functionality so far allows you to apply for a state sales-tax license, an employee wage withholding account and an unemployment insurance account, and may, in the future, integrate other functions as well, Conley said.

You may have read in the Denver Post about a shake up in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade that is intended to sharpen the state's focus on retaining and attracting jobs in Colorado.

Small-business hiring has always been a critical driver of state employment, so the Colorado Business Express, if it paves a way for faster business startups, serves that agenda well. Check it out.

Monday, October 17, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Integrative medicine

I'm in a clinical trial of a drug alphanumerically designated by its maker Genentech Inc. as MEHD7945A, as if it were a star or a galaxy.

The drug  has shown some benefit to me so far. It has reduced my lung tumors slightly, and kept other tumors stable. That, besides some moderate side effects, is the drug's benefit.

But my enrollment in the trial is a result of past chemotherapy treatments losing their effectiveness. Standard treatments no longer control the growth of tumors in my lungs and lymph nodes in my chest cavity; the new drug seems to be doing that.

But even as I take the drug and monitor myself for its effects, I have always been interested in what are called alternative or complimentary treatments for my cancer. They include diet, physical exercise, reduction of stress, spiritual and psychological exercise, dietary supplements and just about anything else someone might suggest to a cancer patient.

The suggestions can be overwhelming and an oncologist often will poo poo them as unscientific and not worth your bother.

But I listened to a 90-minute Colon Cancer Alliance webinar called Integrative Medicine: Wellness Throughout Treatment and Surviorship earlier this month and heard something I have wanted to hear ever since I began my own scattershot research of alternatives to chemotherapy.

Mary Hardy, a doctor and medical director of the Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, finally put an end to across-the-board dismissals of alternatives:

"I like to choose interventions from this arena that have scientific evidence where it is available," Hardy cautioned from her own scientific background.

She added, "The evidence base for what kind of diet, for what kind of supplements, for what kind of effects, is much smaller than it is for the chemotherapy medications that you'll be offered. But there is a body of evidence and it is growing, and when people are making recommendations for you in this area, they should be aware of this evidence, aware of these studies, and use them appropriately."

Hardy went on to share what she knew of the most-talked-about alternatives, first saying: "The best wellness plan is one that is tailored to you."

She suggested finding a knowledgeable coach to help you craft your own response to your disease, and she said to inform your oncologist of what you are doing so he or she can respond as well. Some chemotherapy drugs can be rendered less effective by certain dietary supplements.

Her basic components of a plan were simple:
  • Optimize your diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Practice regular stress management.

Hardy's presentation -- you can listen to the whole show by clicking on the link above and then clicking on "Launch Presentation" -- was actually the second part of the webinar.

Anne Coscarelli, a clinical professor in the Department of Psychology at UCLA, opened the session speaking of the mental and emotional toll a cancer diagnosis takes on a patient, their family and their caregivers, and offering "mindful" techniques for patients to dispel fear and anxiety.

"Colon cancer, like other cancers, comes with a measure of uncertainty," Coscarelli said. "It really can change a person's life both physically, mentally and spiritually." It also can disrupt a patient's physical function, their social network, their sexual and reproductive health, their financial and work status and their spiritual and psychological outlook.

"Stress and anxiety become imprinted on us,' Coscarelli said. "They become imprinted on our brain."

She added that fears of the spread or recurrence of the disease can be spiked by news coverage of the latest medical or research developments, by surfing the Internet for more and more information about your disease, and even by anniversary dates: of surgeries or disease-free scans, or other markers in a patient's fight for life.

The webinar, jointly hosted by the UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology and the Colon Cancer Alliance, is one of a series of "Conversations about Colon Cancer" held on the CCA's website. Check it out for more information about living with the disease.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The entertainment value of occupying Wall Street

John Hendrickson of the Denver Post logged into the Occupy Wall Street stream of consciousness over the weekend with a post on the newspaper's website and in the printed pages of its Sunday entertainment section, providng a little extra to what he calls the "spectacle" of the occupy movement.

If you have any sympathy at all for the occupiers' cause, ... er causes ... at first blush you would think Hendrickson's piece was a 1960s parent's cynical take on hippies.

But when you read the piece a second time, you realize that Hendrickson is merely pointing out that everything nowadays is captured on some camera and posted on the Internet for everyone to see.

Hendrickson implies such multiplicity of images detracts from the protestors' message, and he complains that the news consumer is left to fend for himself or herself when it comes to interpreting a meaning from the raw reportage.

In other words, the gatekeepers of broadcast and mainstream journalism are not around to guide you while you sit at your computer or stand in the middle of the street looking down at your mobile device to brush up on current events.

Hendrickson's publisher, William Dean Singleton, predicted as much years ago when he suggested reporters in the future would carry cameras and voice recorders to capture the news not only in words but in video and sound. But now everyone is a reporter; all you need do is upload your recorded experience to the Internet.

Then the gatekeepers have to sort through all that chaff to edit images they think suggest a meaning in it all.

Hendrickson's piece seems more a tired complaint than a commentary. But it was entertaining; I guess you could say the writer did his job.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Occupy Denver: future middle-class calls for help

Corporate America is finally getting treated to its Arab Spring. Will it listen?

"Occupy Wall Street" is an informal movement of young people (college graduates without jobs commensurate to their education; activists without any other cause to jump on; victims of a Wall Street-induced financial crisis in 2008 for which no one has been held accountable but foreclosed home owners) gathering in a Manhattan park over the past two weeks to protest everything in their lives that makes them miserable.

And the movement is spreading as it should across the nation. The Denver Post wrote a short story about a demonstration held here yesterday that gathered 50 people at Broadway and Colfax, and then marched to the Federal Reserve building on the 16th Street Mall.

I've written about the growing efficacy of peaceful demonstrations around the world. And I've written about how the American poor and lower middle class gained nothing from the boom times that preceded the 2008-2009 Great Recession, but were the first to be punished for it by banks that recklessly lent them starter-home money just to collect the fees charged during a home purchase.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a reflection of young peoples' dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama's cautionary approach to fulfilling his campaign promise of "hope and change."

If we're lucky, it may spread and grow through Election Day 2012, but unlike the Tea Party, set the country on a correct path out of our economic problems: taxing Wall Street millionaires who ripped off the country during the boom; passing a jobs act that puts more middle-class tradesmen and women to work and keeps teachers in their classrooms, and firefighters, policemen and other first-responders on the job; and offers small businesses tax credits to stimulate hiring.

America deserves the Occupy Wall Street movement on so many levels, it should only be happy its young citizens are taking to the streets to speak to power. If it accomplishes its amorphous ends, the movement will have provided the X- and Y- and Z-generations of Americans their own versions of the Peace and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s youth rebellion in these United States.

Have at it kids. It's your time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The down low on Denver/Colorado

The national buzz is all about creating jobs nowadays, but is metro Denver and Colorado a hot commodity among people who sell cities and regions to worldwide companies as a place to expand or relocate?

Only one of nine business site selectors who were wined and dined over the past three days by Denver economic-development recruiters cited the metro area and Colorado as a current hot spot. And that recruiter suggested the alternative-energy industry -- shaky ground during the current economic downturn -- is Colorado's strongest calling card.

But the site selectors were not brought here to pat Colorado and Denver on the back. The Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.'s annual site-selection conference traditionally seeks out the weaknesses of the area's attractions to national and international corporations in order to improve regional prospects for recruiting a corporate expansion or relocation in the future.

And why should small business in Colorado care? Because big business generates small business growth in an area where it operates. When a big company comes to Colorado and hires 100, 400, or 1,000 new employees, it also must look for local suppliers, construction contractors, maintenance firms and other service businesses -- sometimes even venture partners and bankers -- to accomplish their work.

And new jobs put money in the pockets of dry cleaners, sandwich shops and caterers, landlords and professional sports franchises, gas-station operators, home builders, teachers and government workers.

So what was the lowdown on site selection shared by the experts?
  • Outsourcing is being reversed. Companies that sent work to China and India are bringing it back to the U.S., using domestic call centers, data centers, and distribution centers to better serve their customers.
  • Companies are collaborating with each other to reduce costs of business services provided by third-party vendors: human resources, legal, some information technology, employee retention.
  • Consolidations and mergers and acquisitions are causing longer decision-making cycles, up to 18 months, but when a company decides to "pull the trigger" on a move or an expansion, they want a winning-city bidder to act quickly, sometimes within 30 days, to accomplish what they've promised in their bid.
  • Tax breaks and other incentives to lure businesses are being eliminated by some states, mostly for budget reasons; adjusted for different industries by others; and supplemented with cash funds, often under the control of a governor, to close deals in the hottest recruiting states. So the competition among states for new business is fierce. Colorado incentives are still graded a C- to D+ by most economic developers.
And no economic-development organization should assume current local businesses are not being recruited by other states. That's another reason small- to medium-sized businesses should pay attention to what these business-recruitment experts have to say about Denver and Colorado every year.

"You need to be in touch with your local businesses all the time," said Ann Harts, a Kansas City principal of Hickey & Associates, a national and international site-selection firm based in Minneapolis.

Another of the experts, Angelos Angelou, of Angelou Economics in Austin, Texas, said he visits Colorado and other states frequently without notice and when he hears a company has not been visited by its local business-development specialists, he wonders how his own client might be treated by that state if it chose to move or expand there.

"Colorado has never won a project on incentives," Angelou said, based on his experience working within the state. But he said Colorado can compete with any other state based on the talent of its workforce. "Focus on talent. Focus on the business proposition," he suggested to the 400 people in the audience.

Then, referring to Gov. John Hickenlooper who had spoken to the crowd to open the breakfast meeting, Angelou said Hickenlooper's vision of Colorado as a "pro-business" state is as competitive as any of the arguments of hot-spot recruiting states.

"Take the governor to places," Angelou said, "and let him speak." He seemed to think that might be Colorado's sharpest tool in its shed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bank failures reflect badly on Colorado

Just as the penny-stock scandals reflected badly on Colorado's business community in the last decade of the 20th century, Colorado's bank failures in the first years of this century -- eight since 2008 -- will reflect badly on the state for some time to come.

You hear bankers in the state still complaining about over-regulation, but you don't hear many calls for crackdowns on the fast-money track records of the failed banks, or for reform of the wide-open-West, free-market philosophy that led to the failures.

In fact, whenever the state's political and business communities cross paths in the wake of such business scandals in Colorado, the word traditionally used is "mum."

The Denver Post's Aldo Svaldi has done some admirable reporting on the bank failures, documenting for instance that the eight banks that failed, between 2004 and 2008, averaged loan-growth rates of 900 percent, while the average of all U.S. banks' loan-growth rates was just 44 percent during that period. At 76.2 percent, all of Colorado's banks' loan-growth rates for the same four years also ran considerably higher than the national average.

Those figures show how fast leaders of the failed banks, and leaders of Colorado banks in general, were running and gunning during the free-market heyday for Colorado business during Gov. Bill Owens' administration. Neither of Owens' successors, Bill Ritter nor current Gov. John Hickenlooper,  have made any move to slow such unfettered risk taking, but to do so would offend the business community each has been dependent on for their election.

So don't expect much more response to Svaldi's reporting than continued "mum." I asked three prominent business figures in town to comment on my thesis for this piece -- that all of Colorado business bears some accountability for the business practices that led to the bank failures -- but none responded to my call.

One former banker told me he knew of several banks that laid off what they suspected were bad loans to some of the failed banks thinking that regulators would catch up with the banks eventually and the process would work itself out. It did. Svaldi has reported that the five banks that failed in Colorado this year will cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. $1 billion.

If you recall, that's about how much Silverado Savings and Loan cost the federal government when it failed back in 1988, when I first came to Colorado. "Mum" never changes things anywhere. Speaking up and speaking out occasionally will. Let's hope Svaldi keeps on writing.

You may have noticed that I changed the name of my blog to The SchwabBlog. Nothing more has been changed about it, not its url address nor its tone. Hope you continue to enjoy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Let the stock show roam

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos
Let the stock show roam to Aurora and redevelop its current site for the 21st century revival of American manufacturing.

The city of Denver and Mayor Michael Hancock ought to be cutting a deal with the stock show to get a good return on letting the producers of the show out of their lease -- there's no reason not to make them pay for the privilege -- but then use city bond money for redevelopment of the show's near North Denver site to create a world-class manufacturing center.

Make it green as can be by introducing sustainable, environmentally friendly manufacturing plants that actually make affordable products that can be sold in the world market. Use the latest technology and create jobs middle-class men can afford to take and still support their families, and line up a business community that is willing to take a chance on Denver becoming a world leader in this new revolution.

Because it is a new manufacturing revolution. The Chinese are on to it. Barack Obama is on to it. Young men in America are ready for it. And our country desperately needs to lead the world through it.

In Denver, it starts with letting the stock show go. Let the stock show breathe: ride its horses, sell its cows, and sheep and chickens, and promote all of Colorado agriculture, which now includes organics and home-grown fruits and vegetables, wine and beer, flowers and spices, in the open air east of the city where the farm fields of Colorado actually do begin.

And while we're at it, let Aaron Million bring the eastern plains some water to irrigate the crops that can result from a statewide commitment to Colorado farm and ranch families. And let transmission lines be built to carry electricity from wind farms to the places where its needed.

The only things keeping all this from happening in Colorado are environmental activists and the political fear they wield over Democratic politicians who continue to court a liberal base that is no longer big enough for them to win elections here. Democrats need to feel the strength of their middle-class roots and start doing something for the people who have always considered them on their side: labor, teachers, police and firemen, other government workers, the middle-income earner.

Barack Obama knows it. Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to believe it. Our two Democratic senators wish it were true, but are too afraid to stand up against the liberal establishment. State Sen. Rollie Heath has pushed an initiative that might really start to do something for education finance in the state. That kind of political courage is just a start.

The ramshackle pens and muddy parking lots you'll see again at the stock show in January are another good place to start.

Let the stock show roam.

Build some high-tech, clean manufacturing plants, oil refineries and even power plants.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Chemo Room: 4 years and still crawling, LOL

I’ve been dying of Stage IV, metastasized colorectal cancer for more than four years now.

That thought occurs to me standing in the sun outside my house in the backyard where a bunch of croquet buddies gather once a week to play a game turned on its competitive head by a former Denver Bronco, Max Leetzow, who likes to sit on a plywood-cushioned bar stool and sing “Grown men playing croquet” as he waits his turn to beat us again, playing with only one hand.

The song, one Max made up, is meant to disarm his fellow players, making light of the play and any serious pursuit of victory. Every word said on the croquet course is meant to distract or dissuade a fellow player from playing to his own advantage. That’s how Max has changed the rules of the game for this bunch over the past twenty years, and everyone plays along.

It’s very competitive; Max Leetzow, is the most competitive human being I have ever met.

We began playing in my backyard before I was diagnosed. So my croquet buddies, in an odd way, have served as one of my first support groups, although many others have joined the fight with me through the years: my three sisters, my two daughters, a retired Chicago cop, two women friends, a formal, on-line support group called Colontown, my doctors and the nurses at Porter Hospital, and now a new cadre of doctors and nurses at University of Colorado Hospital Anschutz Cancer Center in Aurora.

On July 8, I joined a clinical trial for a drug known only by its non-name: MEHD7945A, made by Genentech, a big-pharma company out of San Francisco that wants to find out whether the drug helps, hurts or kills me.

So far, it seems to have helped a bit, but that’s not really the point of the clinical trial I’m enrolled in. It wants to know how bad it hurts at the dose I’m receiving now every two weeks.

The hurt, so far, has been surprisingly, if not pleasantly, mild. And the bit of improvement that I have felt from the symptoms of my cancer suggest I might survive through this fifth year and maybe even long enough to finish my novel.
I’m smiling as I write that.
I think it’s funny; or at least, as my daughters would say, it’s been fun. I have always taught them it’s a dangerous world outside your door, but if you’re careful and not afraid, you should always make sure you’re having fun. After four years of fighting cancer, I still believe that, and they keep asking me if I'm having fun!

Yes, my "fun" principle has been challenged, but as I write my the novel, and deal with the side effects of this new study drug, I cannot deny I’m still having fun. Croquet and Wild Turkey, of course, play their roles in that, too.

But to the clinical trial: I told my study doctor, Wells Messersmith, last week, as we looked over my preliminary scans since starting on the experimental drug, that within thirty minutes of my first infusion, I felt relief from a breathy kind of cough and shallow shortness of breath that my Porter oncologist, Tom Kenney, said would signal the continued growth of tumors in my lungs.

Kenney said eventually, within two years or maybe less, I would probably need to wheel one of those little green oxygen tanks around behind me, and that, generally I would “dwindle” to my death.

I told my sister-in-law as I started the clinical-trial appointments in July that I had no intention of “dwindling” to anything.  Was I being gruff and bombastic? Yes, perhaps an old lion’s roar, as I used to call the barking of old men against the fading worlds of their own times.

But I also am determined. More and more people are surviving cancer for longer and longer periods of their lives. I expect to get something accomplished during the last years of mine.

In fact, I’ve been monetizing this blog, and starting a separate business,, with two partners since the New Year, and I fully intend to request my sponsors here to renew when the  calendar turns a full year on their support. But back to the clinical trial.

As I made my report of feeling better and looked at my initial scans, Messersmith smiled, a little too indulgently, and said, “We like patients to tell us when things improve for them,” he said. “We include it in our reports when we discuss efficacy.” You could almost hear “dwindle” repeated in his tone.

But efficacy is not the point of Messersmith's study. My scans backed me up; there was some initial, minimal shrinkage of the tumors lit up in the scans by radiation and a contrast they make you drink that always causes a dose of diarrhea.

The study is more concerned with side effects, and Genentech’s drug is no “spindly-armed,” weak hitter, as Max would call a poor shooter on the croquet court, despite the “mild or moderate” side effects described in the consent documents you sign to join the clinical trial.

After that first treatment, when I could breathe easier, I came home to a long night of fever, chills, crawl-into-bed chemo misery, and after a poor night’s sleep a bit of chemo-exhaustion and even a belated, three-day-later bout of chemo-diarrhea, which is when I’m told all the dead cancer cells get carried out of your body.

Later the next week, my fingers and hands started showing some tiny “splits,” a nasty side effect of Erbitux which has been one of my other chemical little buddies along the way.

The MEHD7945A splits, separations of the skin like thick paper cuts, were hardly as big, wide and painful as the Erbitux splits, so the drug lived up to it pre-consent reviews on that front, although those reviews did not mention splits at all. But again, the drug is being given to me to find out how my body reacts to it.

Also the nasal drip that came with all the other chemical cancer killers pumped into my blood stream over the four years returned within about a week of receiving MEHD7945 as well.

Overall, though, like I said, it's been fun. After a few days post-treatment, you actually do laugh about these minor discomforts, especially if your hope is still alive that the drug with no name might actually cure you.

And I have found that hope, if not LOL funny, still happens to be a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

NIMBL, like Jack, jumps to $6 million in three years

"Be like Jack," NIMBL exhorts visitors to its website, Its logo incorporates a man in a business suit jumping over the company name as if it were a candlestick, a necktie flying away as if the action were real.

The image is appropriate. Yosh Eisbart and Michael Pytel have built their SAP software boutique to an expected $6 million in revenues this year -- only its third in business -- by "being agile and being flexible and trying to break ... the previous paradigm of one size fits all," Eisbart said in an interview, where he spoke without a tie and without a suit for that matter.

NIMBL is one of the companies that populates 2,500 square feet in Taxi, the mixed-use commerical development west of the South Platte River near the RiNo art district that I wrote about in April.

Eisbart wanted me to come out and see what the company was doing because its early success brought it to the casual atmosphere of Taxi but also branded it as a local software-implementation company with a national customer base that specializes in SAP: "the largest business software package on the planet," Eisbart says.

That's right. SAP AG, based in Germany, rival to Oracle, IBM, Accenture and smaller computer giants, with $17 billion-plus of revenue, 53,000 employees around the globe, and an icon of  German international business interests. Which explains the well-suited figure in the NIMBL logo.

Michael Pytel and Yosh Eisbart
But if uptight is what you might expect from an SAP specialist, Eisbart doesn't bring that to NIMBL. Instead, he brings expertise. His is a "new-economy business," which is what Kyle Zeppelin called his Taxi tenants last spring, and Eisbart explains with conversational ease how that can save his clients money. Big money.

Big companies familiar with the software-implementation routine know the pattern for these transactions is to sign one of the big-company service providers to a sometimes millions-of-dollars contract, and have an army of consultants (or employees) of the provider descend upon your headquarters and work for months installing and "implementing" the new software.

Gambro USA, a medical-device manufacturer headquartered in Lakewood, signed up for an SAP installation whose end-users would be 400 North American employees spread across the continent from Daytona in Florida to Tijuana, Mexico and 12 other plants. The large provider had already spent nine months on the project but Gambro "didn't feel like they were getting the traction or meeting the goals  of their implementation," so, because of an earlier relationship with NIMBL, "they brought us in tactically," said Eisbart. Within a year, 10 consultants from NIMBL had reduced the 40 original implementation consultants significantly.

Eisbart and NIMBL leveraged that success by making presentations about it at several SAP-customer conventions as the company has grown: from $2 million in revenue in 2009, to $4 million in 2010 and an expected $6 million for 2011. Customers now include Exxon Mobil, Pepsi and Nestle, and in Colorado: Newmont Mining, ULA (United Launch Alliance), and Gambro.

With that list of clients, you would not expect a busy Eisbart to be leading his company's pro-bono work for a non-profit, the Center for Immigrants and Immigration Services, as it helps asylum seekers, torture survivors and war victims, and victims of human trafficking, mostly from Africa, stay in the United States and gain the computer skills needed to hold down jobs here.

"These guys are doing God's work," Eisbart said of the group which he discovered when it applied for a grant from the Rose Community Foundation.

Eisbart sat on the evalutation committee for the grant; after it was awarded, he went further to offer CIIS pro-bono help with setting up a data base for the group's clients, and recruited more pro-bono work from Evolution Marketing Group, which is housed within NIMBL's office space at Taxi. EMG remade the immigration organization's website and is teaching CIIS volunteers how to manage it. NIMBL is providing basic computer classes to CIIS clients.

Frederick Jayweh, the volunteer executive director of CIIS, said the free work Eisbart's companies have contributed to CIIS probably would be valued at $15,000 to $20,000; but more importantly it puts the group in a position to apply for a federal grant next year that might provide some of its volunteers with a bit of salary for the work they do.

A "new-economy business." Helping to get God's work done with computer software.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chemo 101: a web success story

Kristin Gustafson started marketing Chemo101 even before she launched the website that keeps chemotherapy patients, nurses, doctors and caregivers abreast of the latest information available about life in the Chemo Room.

Gustafson says her Denver-based site has grown like a blogger's dream over the last year, landing a $25,000 ad schedule from Whole Foods because of the marketing buzz she created within its target audience by competing for startup funding in the Pepsi Refresh Project.

That's a fund-raising program run by Pepsi which gives away grant money to make innovative ideas -- anyone's idea, really -- into reality by winning the funds to make it happen through a contest.

KG, as Gustafson calls herself, entered Pepsi Refresh last September at the $250,000 level, but lost out to a much larger organization, the animal protector ASPCA, which was able to marshal many more voters to its cause than Chemo 101.

But soliciting votes for her project from all the people who might use it essentially put Chemo 101 in the minds of its audience even before it was available. The site launched in December, and besides her Whole Foods advertising program, KG is now averaging 30,000 unique visitors to the site per month. Like I said: a blogger or website developer's dream.

And that's as much a reason for writing about her here as the nature of her cancer-related website. Gustafson has started a small business on the Internet in the booming health-care industry which never seems to shrink even as the nation's economy falters.

So KG's business lesson is valuable to many of the readers of this blog whether they come from the blogging world, the cancer world, the small-business world, or even the politics and policy world. Chemo 101 is an example of a successful, small-business startup in a booming industry fueled by the Internet.

And Gustafson has gone about starting that business in an instinctively entrepreneurial way.

Her professional background is in human resources, having worked with health-care, and specifically oncology-related, companies in Minnesota, before moving to Colorado to work briefly with a medical-device manufacturer. She found herself drawn back to oncology and the fight against cancer, however, and so decided to start Chemo 101 as an outgrowth of what started as an HR consultant's practice.

She didn't win the Pepsi contest, so her funding came from her own savings and investments, and she was helped by a friend who volunteered his expertise not only in programming but also in sales and marketing because he had been touched by the fight against cancer in his own life and wanted to "give back" while waiting a few months to take a new professional position.

Chemo 101 was borne of KG's experience with her target audience: patients, nurses, doctors and caregivers from mostly community-based cancer clinics. "Our site is really augmenting what they do in the clinic every day," she said.  "A lot of times from the day that someone is told there's cancer, they're just rushed through the process. And the oncology nurse has fifteen people that she's trying to get set up." So a lot of patients go home from a first treatment with dozens of unanswered questions.

KG's website has the answers to many of those questions. "My idea," KG says, "was build a website for cancer patients to understand their drugs and dollars, ... a resource to understand your chemotherapy drugs, understand the different food and drug interactions, and how co-pays work, and what type of insurance you're on; what questions to ask."

But while cancer consumers were the target audience, Gustafson knew her target market for monetizing the site was big pharma, the huge pharmaceutical companies that test, make and sell drugs that help millions of people fight cancer across the globe.

"My business models started with the thought of I'm going after the big pharmaceutical companies; they are the ones that have drugs in the data base that I have built. They have branded, marketed products that we see ... advertised on TV."

Those companies' oncology products, the chemotherapy drugs pumped into patients all over the world, are the mystery meat of the cancer-treatment industry. Millions of patients, nurses  and caregivers are constantly seeking the ever-changing, latest information about drugs and their side effects in order to ease the patient's struggle to stay alive.
And Gustafson, through the website, keeps the information up to date. She uses what are called Food and Drug Administration-approved "package inserts" to describe the chemicals patients receive during chemotherapy. The inserts are the printed material included with any medicine sold to consumers.

But she also has a "resources" section of the site she says will be used to offer information about alternative treatments ranging from use of medical marijuana for nausea to nutrition and diet information geared to the cancer patient. That portion of the site is not yet very developed, but like any site on the Internet, Chemo 101 is a work in progress.

Nurses' desire for more nutrition information, however, is what drove Gustafson to seek out advertising from Whole Foods Market. Surveys she collected at a national meeting of oncology nurses in Boston earlier this year showed nurses ranked a desire for more information on nutrition as high as their desire for information about clinical trials.

"Wow, nutrition is really something I never thought of, and here we've got 40 percent of the nurses saying they would want nutritional information for themselves and their patients," she said. So she contacted a Whole Foods sponsorship program in Boulder and quickly signed up for the first $25,000 of revenue Chemo 101 has generated for itself.

At a later annual  meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago -- "Kind of the Big Dance in oncology," Gufstason said -- "we met with just about any pharmaceutical company that sells an oncology product that you can think of" and were "walking on air a little bit" with the Whole Foods ads already up on the site.

When you are talking with pharma "Goliaths" like Pfizer or Merck, Gufstason said, "David at Chemo 101 didn't seem so small when you had a partner like Whole Foods."

KG is still working to land other advertising and sponsorship deals that carry Chemo 101 into the future of the fight against all kinds of cancers.

But her one-year fight to start the company: the pre-launch marketing campaign through the national Pepsi Refresh program; her visits to national meetings to build traffic and credibility among professionals "critical" to the care of cancer patients, her primary audience; her widening of her advertising market beyond big pharma to businesses on the periphery of the cancer-care industry; all make for text-book examples of how to build an online small business.

So, even if you don't have cancer, Chemo 101 is a website to watch.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How does government money create jobs?

A question that has lingered through the debt-ceiling debate fiasco, specifically related to the need for stimulating a weak economy, is how can government money actually create jobs?

Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration is working hard to find an answer. It has applied to the Treasury Department for $17.2 million it wants to spend with lenders in Colorado to break their reluctance to fund small-business growth.

Small businesses grow by hiring people to produce and sell more of their product or service, increasing a firm's revenue and profits. The longest running complaint small businesses have had with state and federal policy makers has been that banks refuse to lend businesses money to achieve that growth.

Alice Kotrlik, a long-time valuable asset of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade and director of its Business Finance Division, is in charge of Colorado's application to the State Small Business Credit Initiative, and expects to hear a "favorable" response from Treasury very soon, perhaps within days.

She said the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act, signed last September and so far apparently in no danger from projected deficit-reducing budget cuts, requires the programs using the federal money to be started by states within 90 days of receiving a grant. All of Colorado's $17.2 million, if it gets it, will have to be deployed within two years. So the money will be going to businesses fairly quickly once the state gets its check.

That's good because business finance is a top-of-mind issue in Colorado not only because of political pledges to get people back to work -- create jobs -- but also because past efforts to fund small-business startups with government money have been dismally unsuccessful.

Kotrlic's office crafted her application for the small-business federal funding through Hickenlooper's "bottom-up" economic-development process, resulting in the release last month of the Colorado Blueprint, a document that amounts to a master plan for state governance.

The application calls for distribution of the $17 million through three programs: an existing loan-loss/reserve program run through the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHAFA); an expanded pilot program started last summer that offers angel investors a tax credit for investing in Colorado small businesses; and an altogether new program designed to distribute $14.2 million of the funds by depositing cash certificates of deposit in banks that want to loan money to a small business but are hesitating because of a borrower's shortfall in the value of collateral being used to support the loan.

Kotrlic described the program for me in detail, and it sounds like the only kind of government effort a Colorado bank would be willing to sign up for to loosen up its lending to small business: direct cash infusions of government money they can take if a loan goes sour.

The banks aren't crazy. The reason a Small Business Administration emergency loan program failed in Colorado and around the country in 2008 and 2009 was because the loans -- $35,000 max -- weren't large enough for the bankers to bother with, and because the people who needed them, small businesses already in trouble and at risk of survival because of the economic collapse, were too risky to lend to.

Kotrlic's new program will provide up to 25 percent of loans from $75,000 to $1 million in a cash CD that can be deposited in the lending bank and dedicated as collateral for the loan. The small business owner then can use the full amount of the loan to grow his or her business by hiring new workers and increasing sales and revenues, and pay back the bank over a three-year term.

The state will provide a collateral shortfall for loans up to $5 million, but the percentage of state-supported collateral will drop for bigger loans to the amount needed to cover the borrower's shortfall up to about 10 percent of the loan. Kotrlic points out that 10 percent of a $5 million loan would still amount to a $500,000 cash CD, and she seemed to think that was plenty for the state to give a bank to cover the risk of an otherwise credit-worthy borrower.

That's how government money can create jobs and stimulate the nation's lagging economy. It's government at its best, helping private small businesses break through big-business bankers' reluctance to help Main Street get back on its feet.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the Chemo Room: A guinea pig

Never did I imagine I would be walking through the Phil Anschutz-funded doors of the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora volunteering to be a guinea pig for cancer research.

But that's what I did on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when I went for my first screening and scan appointments to enter a clinical trial for a drug called MEHD7945A, sponsored by Genentech Inc. out of San Francisco, which I suppose wants to manufacture and sell the drug once it is cleared by the FDA.

The consent forms are pretty clear: "You are being asked to take part in this research study of an investigational drug called MEHD7945A. The study drug is being looked at to see if it could be a treatment for advanced cancer. "Investigational" means that the study drug has not been approved by the U.S. Food and  Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is the U.S. government agency that reviews the results of research and decides if a drug can be sold in the U.S.

"You are being asked to be in this study because your tumor has grown or spread during or following chemotherapy or other treatment, or there is no standard therapy for your type of cancer.... The purpose of this research study is to determine the safety of the study drug and to determine the highest tolerated dose ... that can be given to subjects safely.... This is a Phase 1 study. This is the first time that MEHD7945A will be given to humans and is in a very early stage of development.... Please carefully read the sections on risk and benefits below."

The forms went on to describe known side effects, which so far have been mild in most subjects, but the forms don't rule out death or some lesser cataclysmic personal reaction to the drug and they schedule your first infusion (mine is on Wednesday) as a 10-hour day to make sure you don't have one.

The scans taken this week are done to establish a baseline for growth or reduction of the colorectal cancer growing in my lungs. The best results the researches will tell you about, however, is a possible stabilization of the growth and spread of the tumors. That's one reason entering the trial is considered one way a cancer patient who has gone through "standard" treatment and not defeated the disease can prolong his or her life beyond the time it would take for it to kill you if left unabated.

Dr. Wells Messersmith, the "study doctor" in charge of my treatment, told me July 8 that I don't look like someone who has cancer -- I've been gaining weight lately -- and my hope is that I keep up those appearances (and energy) while this new drug stabilizes my disease.

But none of all that is what amazed me most as I walked through the doors of the Anschutz cancer pavilion this week. What amazed me was the beehive of economic activity represented by the center during what has been the third of probably the three toughest economic years in the state's history.

Patients and employees alike hurried in and out of the pavilion; cars fueled by $3 gas, big buses and small carts ferried people in and out of jammed parking lots; hospital shops and cafeteria, information desks and check-in outposts were hustling with an assured, customer-service oriented dispatch.

I never thought I would have to be grateful to Phil Anschutz, but the marvel that has been created by The Anschutz Foundation -- which has contributed more than $100 million to building the center -- the University of Colorado, the city of Aurora, the state of Colorado and the federal government calls forth a deep sense of relief over having available to me the very best opportunities to beat my disease.

I don't mind feeling like a guinea pig.

Maybe my participation in this clinical trial, like all the work being done at the medical campus, will save a few lives down the road. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Regis-based Capital Congress reaching out for small business

I just posted two ideas to a website being run by the Colorado Capital Congress, a new advocate for providing capital to small businesses that need it to survive in today's harsh economic climate.

That's a big chore to take on in Colorado, as Karl Dakin, executive director of the Sullivan Chair for Free Enterprise at Regis University, well knows.

He and "some other guys" tried to convince the legislature last session to create a public/private entity that could capitalize startup businesses to the tune of $25,000 to $250,000. They were turned down on a party-line vote in a House committee.

"They didn't want to see another government entity involved in funding" private business, Dakin told me in an interview Sunday. So Dakin took his ball and went home to Regis where last month he and Paul Alexander, director of the school's Institute on the Common Good, founded the Capital Congress.

On June 29, the pair held an organizational meeting with Denver-area business owners, some business financiers and at least one state legislator, Pete Lee, D-Manitou Springs, where they outlined a process for the congress to vet new ideas for accomplishing its cause: filling a shortfall of up to $10 billion a year in capital funding for Colorado small businesses.

The Colorado Capital Congress,, will collect, improve and then vote on ideas submitted from the general public, and then bring that agenda to next year's legislature with an assurance to elected officials the ideas have the backing of some of their constituents and represent a dire need for businesses in the state.

Capital, or cash, is always what most small-business owners lack if they can turn their attention from survival to actually strategizing about growth.

The growth of small businesses in Colorado is the largest single contributor to job growth in the state, so if politicians are sincere about finding jobs for Colorado's unemployed they will at least give a listen to Dakin and Alexander's suggestions when the next lawmaking festival rolls around in January.

"Business-friendly" is a descriptor many elected officials adopt for themselves when trying to persuade voters to support them. When the time comes to actually do something for voters who have believed in the descriptor, many state officials in Colorado do a free-market shuffle and beg off the issue.

I hope this Congress will hold some political cold feet close to the fire. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Media Salad: Tossed into business

Christine Tatum was president of the Society of Professional Journalists for a year before she left the Denver Post to go into business, eventually for herself, as the founder of a Denver-based firm that provides competitive intelligence to other small and medium-sized companies.

She likes the fact she is taking journalism on a new route, that she is hiring fellow former journalists to provide her clients the information they seek, and that, while doing so, she and "the fellas" are still fulfilling the "calling" they answered when they became journalists.

"Which was to give people useful information," she said, information that can "enlighten" business decisions that are made every day. She calls the firm Media Salad Inc., and describes it on her website as: "a rapid-response research and reporting service that works on demand to deliver Market Intelligence so our clients can make informed strategic decisions faster.

"Our professional reporters and editors will work from around the globe to put independent findings in your team's hands for quick action."
Christine Tatum
Tatum, like many other reporters who have fallen out of the news business because the news/advertising model imploded, has created a new model for journalism based on the skills and craft she learned as a reporter, which she is now taking to market as a business owner.
Ironically, she believes what she has created could be taken inside a newspaper or other large news organization, providing a new client-driven revenue stream that puts a higher price on more targeted business information than what can be passed along in a general news story.

New revenue streams are what newspapers, magazines and most other media, including broadcast television, need to survive. Right now, traditional, general media has a hard time reaching the small niche audiences their once mass audiences have been broken into on the Internet.

"The information is not customized enough for these people," she says of her clients and the news industry. It's too generalized. "Sometimes a news story that is written raises more questions than it actually answers for you, and you can't call the reporter up and say, 'Hey, I'd like you to get rolling on that follow-up story.'" The newspaper reporter will "tell you where to get off," said Tatum.

But her "reporters" can start digging deeper at that point to "track competitors, vendors and donors; find and background potential partners; identify new market prospects; ... [and] track changes in regulation," she says on her website.

At the same time, Tatum says she hasn't forgotten how to tell someone where to get off.

"I make very clear at the outset," she said, "we give you the good, the bad and the ugly because we would not be doing our jobs for you if we didn't."

"And if they decide they can't swing it, and they find us obnoxious or all of a sudden we're telling them things ... or flagging things that they think: 'Oh my gosh, I just can't deal with this every day,' ... if they can't swing it, then I don't want to work with them. I just don't. I'm not interested in the money."

That sounds like the old technology reporter Tatum was when she worked for the Post or the Chicago Tribune before that. She's not afraid to tell stories of getting burned by the first business that hired her away from the Post, nor of her own dissatisfaction with the technology the Post was trying to use to build it's digital offerings at Denver

Strangely, in terms of business, Tatum is not driven by a desire for great profit, which like many journalists, might disqualify her and them from the bruising, no-holds-barred world of free-market enterprise.

"I would be very, very happy if I just accomplished modest financial goals," she said, "as opposed to, 'Oh, we're going to be acquired by Google next week,' ... or, 'Oh, we're about to win like all of this massive investment.'"

Instead, she she'd rather know she helped a struggling fellow journalist feed his family, or make a tuition payment with the supplemental income she provides her independent contractors --her "reporters."

"Call me crazy, but I think that a lot of journalists have also answered a calling; it's not that you decided to go off and make lots and lots of tons and tons of money. You answered a calling, and in a weird way, I view what I am doing and continue to do professionally is answering that calling."

In other words, practicing a specialized, small-company journalism, independent of the big media dollars that no longer support as many journalists as once was before. It's the new journalism of the 21st century. Taking your writing craft into your own small business.

You may have heard that before on this blog. It's the pitch for my own small business.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anti-tax pols should look to the Greeks

Any U.S. Republican or Democrat who believes we can cut the deficit and balance the budget without a tax increase should listen closely to Greek protesters who ask "Why me?" when their government insists on austerity measures.

The Greek poor have a good argument if they haven't benefited from the huge debt their society built up before going bust over the last decade.

On the other hand, the hypocrisy of anti-tax politicians in Washington resounds all the louder because they ignored and allowed the speculative practices of Wall Street bankers and traders who got America into the mess we all find ourselves in today.

President Barack Obama took to the White House press-conference podium yesterday to scold Congress when he said, "These are bills that Congress ran up. ... Now they are saying, 'Maybe we don't have to pay.'"

Instead, the congressmen and women who oppose raising taxes -- mostly Republicans but including some Democrats -- want to cut government spending to the bone, which means they want the burden of curing the deficit placed squarely on the backs of the middle class and the poor.

Not only did the poor draw no benefit at all from the wealth generated on Wall Street before 2008, but companies all across America whittled away at the middle class by eliminating jobs; cutting salaries; pushing people into part-time, no-benefits positions; increasing health-insurance co-pays and deductibles; and forcing employees out of defined-benefit pensions into 401ks where their retirements were put at risk by the same Wall Street traders who caused the 2008 crash.

But the "cut-spending-only-crowd" has yet another motive. Opposing increased revenues for government today essentially means the rich will escape paying the government back for Bush tax cuts that made them even more wealthy over the past 10 years. Anti-tax pols have but one constituency it seems: the people who fund their re-election campaigns year after year.

Because George W. Bush promoted a lack of dissent as the only true expression of patriotism in America while all that was happening, neither the poor nor the dwindling middle class took to the streets to protest their lot.

But the Greek rock-throwers offer a glimpse of what could happen in America as more of the poor get poorer; more of what's left of the middle class gets pushed into poverty; and the rich inexorably keep getting richer, as seems the goal of the current Republican majority in the House.

Revolutions get started in the back streets of any nation; and the middle class in the U.S. elected Obama to change things for the better, not worse. If anti-tax Republicans and Democrats believe the population of their country will remain somnolent forever they should look to Greece and the Arab Spring, then remember the anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations of the 1960s.

The people here are not afraid to peacefully stand up against their government. They just have to be pushed hard enough.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Colon Cancer Alliance national meetup

I walked three miles today, more than I have been able to exercise since they but a bag on my belly and took a tumor and my rectum out of my bottom in September 2007. It felt good.

I was following some of the primary advice given colorectal cancer survivors -- about 60 of them -- attending the national conference of the Colon Cancer Alliance at the Marriott Denver City Center on Friday. The advice I heard most often was: Keep exercising. It will prolong your life.

Which is what all those survivors are looking to do. Some, like me, still have the cancer and are still fighting it. More than half of the 60 had survived the disease for more than five years, and some had passed the 10-year mark. Most of those looked pretty fit. And many of them walked in the Denver Undy 5000, a 5K and one-mile fun run and walk held this morning in City Park.

It didn't take long to be told on Friday that exercise was one of the best anti-cancer drugs. Dr. Tim Byers, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Colorado Cancer Center in Aurora, opened the day-long conference with a keynote address packed full of statistics that showed declining death rates for both men and women treated for colorectal cancer.


"We don't really know," Byers said, striking a tone that held throughout the conference: a forthright realism about everything from ordinary doctors' lackadaisical endorsement of colonoscopy, the most effective preventive for colon cancer, to the lingering effects of "chemo brain," a loss of memory and other cognitive function after prolonged chemotherapy.

Another University of Colorado Cancer Center doc, Stephen Leong, lent credence to cancer survivors' complaints of "chemo brain," and suggested it was one of several persistent side effects doctors need to pay more attention to as increasing number of survivors live cancer free for longer than five years.

Other speakers noted lengthening survival times tend to make the magic five-year mark less meaningful. Cancer changes your life, many speakers agreed; but after-cancer realities are often magnified: money problems from long-term loss of income, relationship problems from a lack of a sex life, reassessment of career goals and capacities, all make surviving cancer a new life challenge.

Byers said at the outset that researchers believe all cancers, including colorectal cancer, like car crashes, are caused by a variety of factors -- genetic and cultural, environmental, behavioral, "What we run into in life" and simple "bad luck" -- that often combine in multiple and unpredictable ways.

Colorectal cancer, however, remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States after lung cancer, and part of the reason is that it strikes both men and women and most of it occurs sporadically, meaning the victim's cells mutate randomly.

Still risk factors for colorectal cancer are listed as:
  •  Age, gender, race/ethnicity
  • Family history
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diet
  • Body weight
  • Physical activity.
But an estimated 40 percent of colorectal cancer can be attributed to four specific risks: obesity, lack of physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, and consumption of red meats.

"For colorectal cancer, brisk walking can take down the risk factor dramatically," Byers said.

So the next morning, I decided instead of standing around at the Undy 5000, where runners and walkers wear underwear over their exercise outfits to designate the geography of the colorectal problem, I would indeed walk the three miles to see if I could do it.

It seemed the best and cheapest therapy available.

I did, and it felt good.