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." 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Save a middle-class dream

Organizers and members of the crowd estimated 3,000 demonstrators showed up on the Colorado Capitol steps Saturday to rally to Save the American Dream, an Internet-driven demonstration supporting organized labor, Wisconsin public employees, the nation's dwindling middle class and the power of people in a democracy.

Since this blog on Wednesday suggested it was time for Coloradans to vote with their feet in support of the middle class, and Move and a large coalition of other organizations called for noon rallies across the nation to do the same, I went to check out the crowd and add my large body to it.

Two Denver television stations reported the crowd as much smaller, and frankly, as a lover of crowds and a reporter assigned to cover a number of them, the 1,000 figure seemed more accurate to me. 

Zoe Williams, an organizer who led "Power to the People" chants from the speakers' podium, said she obtained the permit for the rally even though she is not formally connected with Move On, and then gave over the rally to Move On folks.

The crowd was predominantly people over 35, and largely people over 50, who make up the middle class that has been decimated over the past 20 years, as has organized labor in the private sector, and the power of people in all of America for that matter.

Williams identified her chants as drawn from the Sixties although she was not old enough to have chanted them then. It's a wonder the words have not been forgotten.

But that has been the way America has gone since the Sixties. Buttoned up, free-market, anti-labor if not necessarily anti-people, unless the people are undocumented immigrants. It's just that many of the people of the Sixties have gotten rich, turned Republican and think that all their neighbors have done the same.

Peaceful despite significant police coverage, the tone taken by speakers at the rally was liberal to activist. One member of the Denver firefighters' union took after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is trying to strip collective bargaining rights from many public workers in his state. "Mr. Walker, you awoke a sleeping giant," the firefighter said. "We are the people."

Back in the Sixties you wouldn't have seen a white firefighter take to the podium during a demonstration. Today, first responders of all sorts are as much under the anti-labor, free-market gun that is aimed at any unionized worker, but most especially at public employees, who make up the majority of the few unionized workers who still have jobs in America. Private-sector union workers are almost extinct.

Signs are always the most entertaining element of a demonstration in America. "I am not a serf," read one homemade poster. "Of the Corp., Buy the Corp., For the Corp.," read another.

Cars honked in support of the rally, and so did the big air horns on cement trucks pulling away from the construction site where a new court building and history museum are being built. The drivers, from the private-sector, probably would like to be unionized.

And for all the business opposition to unions in Colorado, battles most Colorado business people believe have been won for good, the rally might signal to future middle-class prospects -- the great number of college graduates walking around without jobs in their field, for example -- that the power of unions and union-negotiated wages also fuels a state's economy.

Many people at the rally believe there would be no middle-class in America if unions did not organize a third of the workforce after World War II. That post-war era, the Sixties, still represents one of the most prosperous eras in the nation's history. But that lesson has been lost on most people who oppose unions.

It's not been lost on what's left of the middle class.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Demonstrators change the world; can they change Colorado?

Look at Egypt, Wisconsin, Denver, Colorado! Peaceful protestors demanding their rights. Colorado union members standing up for the minimal influence organized labor has on state government here.

Judging from the Middle East and Northern Africa, you would think that the power of the protestor, the power of people demonstrating successfully for reform and civil rights, has finally achieved its full voice and power in the world.

But then you hear that the governor of Wisconsin remains deaf to the demand for collective bargaining rights for all his public employees; and you see there are demonstrators here, too, in Colorado, advocating the same governor's budget-cutting position.

What's a thinking moderate to do? Hillary Clinton has chided world leaders for trying to retaliate against their citizens for exercising their universal right to assemble and petition their government for legitimate reforms.

But looking at the rotunda in the Wisconsin capital only makes you wonder whether a crowd like that inside Colorado's Capitol would be allowed its same universal right of expression.

But then you tell yourself nothing will ever get that bad here in Colorado.

For one thing, state workers hardly have the collective bargaining rights granted state workers in Ohio and Wisconsin several decades ago. And as for the private sector, workers have hardly any rights at all.

So for Colorado, no worries in that regard; local business leaders can breathe a deep sigh of relief.

But you have to ask: Isn't Colorado's middle class being destroyed just as effectively here as elsewhere in these United States?

Wasn't it another attack on the state's middle-class wage earners when Democratic and Republican budget writers of years past forced Colorado into a position of depriving children all the way to college levels the financial support of a good public-school education?

Maybe it's time Coloradans did flood the Capitol with their bodies to remind our leaders that peoples' lives are on the line here just as they are in the poorer nations of the world. Whether you are wearing a tie with your sport coat or not, decisions made at the top have profound impact on the legions living at the bottom.

And maybe that message is finally getting through. I've been to many a demonstration big and small in Colorado -- for more gun control in the wake of Columbine and for janitors' rights in downtown buildings --when the protest had no effect on lawmakers at all.

Perhaps the numbers just have to be bigger, and the shouting louder, and protest has to become a worldwide fashion, for our leaders to listen more carefully to the legitimate concerns of a citizenry. Maybe it's time for all of us to vote with our feet.

At least when you walk for a cause you give yourself time to hope someone will listen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

South Metro SBDC unveils remodeled website

Check it out:; it's a breezy read through what looks like everything you might need to know, and every source you might want to access, if you want to start or grow a small business.

The Small Business Development Center is hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, that whacky crew that holds the most entertaining of business-awards lunches each year.

But the chamber is a separate entity, serving a larger audience of large, medium and small businesses across the south metro region from its offices at 6840 S. University Boulevard in Centennial.

The SBDC, located in the same office, specifically serves small-business owners and is part of a statewide network of business development centers that serve small-business owners across Colorado.

About the remodeled site: It is not only elegant but extremely efficient, starting from the first link to a "Start-Up Checklist" on its welcome page, to an exhaustive "Business Resource Links," that can send you to that entire statewide network of SBDCs or a specific website to help veterans get the information they need to start a business.

The South Metro SBDC premiered the new site over the weekend. It's worth a look if you want to cut through the blizzard of information that can boggle the mind of even the smartest entrepreneur seeking to become his or her own boss.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Financing alternative care

"It is quite emotional when you're fighting for your life and you are out of money."

Those are the words of Sue Memhard, recent founder of The Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation, a new Colorado nonprofit that is raising money to help women fight cancer through alternative and complementary methods.

My last two reports from the chemo room opened a discussion between readers about the high cost of conventional cancer treatments and the lack of financial resources (meaning health-insurance coverage) available to cancer patients who choose alternative care.

"The foundation was started last year," Memhard explained, "as a result of my own personal experience of trying to find financial help for myself while I was doing alternative treatments for breast cancer. I'm a three-time survivor and I found that there were no organizations that could offer financial help unless an individual was doing chemo.

"I had developed very significant chemical sensitivities from prior chemo that I had taken a number of years ago," she continued, "... [but] everything that is not under the umbrella of the conventional care system is pretty much not covered by insurance. So even if you have insurance, it really doesn't matter.

"It's all out of pocket, and it's quite expensive."

So Memhard and her husband moved to Colorado from Massachusetts to get her under the care of a local alternative-care practitioner, putting the family under significant financial stress. When her husband, who is still looking for a job, asked what Memhard wanted to do here to help the couple survive financially, she said she wanted to start the nonprofit, no small expense itself. Part of the money she is trying to raise will go toward her own salary (which effectively means her medical bills).

And that's how creative you have to get when battling cancer from a pocketbook. My last post described some of my own bills; besides Memhard, the blog inspired Dr. Robert Zieve of Prescott, Az., to contact me about a conference in Phoenix next month that will gather experts on alternative and complementary treatments that are far less expensive than conventional chemo and radiation.

But that doesn't mean alternative treatments don't also cost patients their accumulated fortunes. Memhard called the three $500 grants her foundation has already awarded three women from Connecticut, New Jersey and California "a drop in the bucket" toward the total cost of their care.

That's also why she is actively looking for donors and other sources of financing to get her foundation up and running at a scale that might approach the great need traditional health insurers continue to ignore.

One of the things I've found that is a little debilitating about fighting cancer as hard as you might wish to fight it is the realization of your own uncertain future. Conventional cancer doctors estimate your survival times at various lengths: usually from three to five years. If you are found cancer free after five years of being cancer free, the docs will tell you it looks like you're cured, but not to count on the disease not coming back.

So the shadow cast by survival remains hauntingly over your shoulder, a little dark cloud no matter how well you might be feeling.

"It's quite emotional when you are fighting for your life and you are out of money," Sue Memhard told me.

A professional counselor with 30 years experience, Memhard also uses the foundation as a conduit for providing free telephone counseling to women who are facing the emotional anchors that threaten to pull you under while you are fighting the disease. She could use a little help along her way.

Give her a call at 303-993-8843 or go to her website at Whether you need help or can offer some, she'll welcome your call.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Courting business becoming a political trend

Gov. John Hickenlooper
President Barack Obama is not the only chief-executive-of-state courting the business community big time. Our own Gov. John Hickenlooper met with ten CEOs of the state's largest employers last Friday in a meeting that so far has gone relatively unreported except by him.

The president met with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday and asked its business membership to "get in the game" of hiring to reduce the nation's unemployment. 

Hickenlooper hasn't said he asked the Colorado CEOs to open their doors and hire more unemployed Colorado workers, but he did say Monday on Mike Rosen's radio show that the CEOs "had all kinds of specific suggestions in terms of changing the taxes we ... have on business, not to lower them, but just to make them more fair."

He also said that raising corporate taxes in the state now "would put up a neon sign saying we don't want any [new] businesses" coming to the state -- exactly the opposite of the "aggressively pro-business" message Hickenlooper, like Obama, wants to send right now.

Both chief executives want Corporate America to pitch in and contribute to economic recovery. We don't know whether Hickenlooper specifically asked the Colorado employers to do that because his two-and-a- half-hour session with the execs in his Capitol office was deemed a "private meeting," according to spokesman Eric Brown.

Brown also said the governor "regularly meets with business leaders and will continue to do so."

That's a good thing for both the governor and the state because Hickenlooper needs business on his side if he expects to accomplish anything during his term. That's a reality that escaped his predecessor Bill Ritter, whose governance was in marked contrast to Obama's and Hickenlooper's because it followed a national Democratic agenda rather than one crafted by him for Colorado.

Obama, a former community organizer, and Hickenlooper, an entrepreneur with a Democratic bent, have realized from the start of their political careers that government has to work with business for the common good of all citizens.

They realize, too, that neither liberals who like to shut out business interests from government, nor free-market conservatives who want government to stay out of business altogether, hold the proper respect for the joint venture that our society demands from both its public and private sectors.

Hickenlooper told reporters and economic development specialists after his Friday morning meeting with the CEOs that Ken Tuchman of Teletech Holdings Inc., one of those businessmen who attended, suggested to the group that the tightening economy over the past three years has made all their companies "better and stronger," in Hickenlooper's words.

Operating lean and mean will do that for a company, but as Obama suggested to the U.S. Chamber, the time for Colorado's big businesses to get off the sidelines and hire people is now. Let's hope our new governor pressed the same point with his C-level executive friends.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hickenlooper wants red-tape legislation this session

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday he hoped legislation will be produced this session to reduce "red tape" that clutters Colorado business performance.

Hickenlooper talked to reporters before meeting with about 200 business and economic development types at The Cable Center on the University of Denver campus, the last stop on a 1,000-mile tour of the state to gather ideas about what state government should do to grow its business and industry.

He ruled out tax reform this year, saying any remaking of the state tax code is too complex to accomplish soon. He said, too, that while touring the state, he found no one much interested in raising taxes now, although one participant in the meeting suggested higher taxes are inevitable if Hickenlooper's administration is serious about addressing state budget shortfalls.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy this week filed new paperwork calling for a statewide vote on a variety of tax increases, according to the Denver Post, but the initiatives proposed by the group have a long way to go before they are approved for the 2011 ballot.

Onerous state regulations that limit, license and sometimes fine businesses throughout Colorado --usually lumped together by Hickenlooper under the moniker "red tape" -- are more likely to be addressed by lawmakers this year, the governor said.

Without being specific, he has made reducing and eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to doing business in Colorado a favorite element of his courtship of business and bipartisan support for the "bottom-up" region-based economic development plan that is the goal of the meetings like the one held Friday.

Like tax reform, the development strategy, will not be addressed by this legislature because it won't be produced until mid or the end of May, which is after the legislature adjourns. Still the crowd, drawn from metro-Denver counties including Clear Creek and Gilpin on the western edge of the region, was delighted to offer suggestions to foster statewide business prosperty.

When taxes were mentioned, they usually were accompanied by the descriptors "fair" and "low." One Jefferson County participant suggested recruiting a nuclear power plant to the state. And Hickenlooper even suggested creating a state venture-capital fund that would serve only Colorado businesses and be operated purely on a highest-rate-of-return standard.

None of that wishing and hoping will create a single job tomorrow, which is the ultimate goal of any economic development plan. But the "attitude" in the room might.

Dwayne Romero, the governor's newly appointed economic-development director, suggested that job creation is accomplished one job and one small business at a time. Confidence in Colorado's ability to recover from economic setbacks, he said, will drive those necessary new hires.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Space entrepreneurs wanted

eSpace, the Boulder business incubator for space entrepreneurs, is looking for a half dozen new companies to launch into Colorado's growing space industry.

Part of The Center for Space Entrepreneurship, the incubator was started in 2009 by the University of Colorado at Boulder and Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems Group in Louisville. This week, it opened its third round of recruiting for prospective entrants to the space business.

The program provides money, physical space and business mentoring to successful applicants. Diane Dimeff, executive director, said three nascent companies have already applied, and she expects up to two dozen more to try. To apply, go here. The center plans to incubate six successful applicants.

eSpace has six young companies currently enrolled; the firms are developing products from new spacecraft propulsion systems to moonlanders, like the craft shown here. It was designed by Next Giant Leap, a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million contest to maneuver and land a small spacecraft on the moon and relay data back to Earth.

Those may seem like lofty ambitions, but in just its first 18 months, eSpace has already graduated two firms to the open market: Net.Centric Design Professionals, which sets up ground-to-space computer networks; and Zybeck Advance Products, a manufacturer of synthetic moon rock that also has developed a milling system able to melt nearly any material at temperatures up to 20,000 degrees centigrade.

Dimeff has a $1.4 million budget for the next 18 months and, naturally, is looking for more earthbound donors and investors. The center's goal is to grow a space-industry workforce in Colorado that literally reaches for the stars.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Bills

The "Level 2" appeal of a $79,000 bill for radiation treatments I took last summer went into the mail yesterday, and I have before me two more invoices from chem labs for more than $1,000 for services done late in 2010 and as long ago as the summer of 2009 that have not been paid by my insurer.

And that's just the unpaid tip of the huge mountain of dollars that has already been paid by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and myself during my four-year-plus battle against colorectal cancer. 

I'm finally in the process of adding it all up, and hope to write more about it for your reading horror, but also to illustrate the cost of fighting and surviving cancer in Denver which is no small financial hill to climb.

Maybe some of you can share your financial experiences with me if someone in your family has been fighting a serious health issue.

Part of my problem in facing these costs over the years has been my lack of income. I went from a salary just under $80,000 a year to a spotty income of about $30,000 annually for 2007, 2008 and 2009, what with writing a book for pay, doing a few public-relations projects and cashing out my retirement and one life insurance policy.

This past year has been a lot worse, as it has been for many, many people, and I've been borrowing heavily to make ends meet. Strangely, even though I am still taking chemo therapy, I feel as if I have recovered 98 percent of my energy pre-diagnosis, and I'm working hard on writing projects, including this blog, but making no money.

I plan to change that this year. And one of the ways I hope to change it is by writing about how much it costs to survive cancer in Denver, Colorado. The problem with survival, as I've already indicated, is not only that you have to pay for a portion of its expense, but also that you have to pay all the rest of your "cost-of-living," like rent, groceries, car insurance, etc.

So filing an appeal of a medical bill that has been denied by an insurer becomes routine business for a cancer survivor.

And you do it with a kind of a hippie-inspired equanimity because you know your insurer already has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep you alive. You can only be grateful for that, even when you realize you are simply collecting on health-insurance premiums you have paid all your adult life.

Those total premiums, after all, hardly match the cost of long-term cancer care at today's health-industry prices.

But you realize something else as well. What you do not pay for during the four-year struggle is all the support, prayers and love shown to you by friends, family and readers of your blog. You can only be grateful for that, too. So thank you.