Hickenlooper releases Colorado economic development plan
DENVER – Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled dozens of goals Wednesday aimed at boosting Colorado’s economy by addressing everything from business regulation, tourism and education – his most far-reaching initiative since he took office in January.
The goals focus on six areas the state will work to improve in the coming years, and the ideas come from dozens of meetings across the state and input from all 64 counties. The governor’s office said the point was to unify ideas from all regions to come up with a plan that works for the state.
Dwayne Romero, the governor’s executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said officials gathered statewide input on how the state can help communities’ economic recovery.
Romero said it’s “recognizing that the state of Colorado is not one kind of unified, almost a vanilla, in its flavor of economic activity.”
The six areas state officials decided to tackle statewide are: making Colorado more business friendly, recruiting and retaining businesses, increasing access to loans for businesses, increasing tourism, workforce training, and cultivating innovation and technology.
Each area has different benchmarks to measure achievement and timelines for accomplishment. For example, on the state’s business environment, state agencies will work with local governments and private companies to analyze how businesses file state and local taxes and figure out ways to make it a uniform process. Businesses sometimes have to file taxes with multiple jurisdictions.
On recruiting and retaining businesses, officials will conduct regular trade missions to California and abroad, including Mexico, Columbia and Asia. State agencies will track how many new jobs are created by recruited companies. By October 2011, a goal is to have a state plan for business retention and growth.
The initiative was one of Hickenlooper’s most prominent promises during his campaign last year. State departments will also look at ways of getting loans for businesses, increase awareness of the state’s tourism office, emphasize more training for the state’s workforce and find ideas to attract two technology companies each year to Colorado.
The governor’s office says state department heads will be held accountable for meeting goals, but it wasn’t clear what the consequences would be for not achieving benchmarks.
“Just like any other business, some will get done better than others, but I think we take that seriously,” said Ken Lund, Hickenlooper’s chief legal counsel. “We don’t have any set of rewards or penalties set up, other than putting people’s name on it in black and white and committing to getting the job done.”
Aside from the six areas the state will focus on, regions of the state were also encouraged to develop their own goals and initiatives. For instance, Weld and Larimer counties set a goal of creating 5,000 jobs in the next five years. In the metro area, including Denver, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, officials want to double tourism revenue in 10 years.
Romero acknowledged that the plan for the six statewide areas may not have the same kind of specific figures to demonstrate achievement like the regional plans. But Hickenlooper said that’s because it’s difficult to predict fluctuations in the economy.
“I think what you’re asking for us is to pull a number out of a hat,” Hickenlooper said when asked about the issue.
Democrats and Republicans praised Hickenlooper’s initiative, which he unveiled at TAXI, a development including office space and apartments built at the site of a former trucking terminal in Denver.
“This holds tremendous possibilities,” said Republican Rep. Amy Stephens, the House majority leader. “It also means that we have to continue to examine government agencies to make sure that we don’t put onerous burdens on business.”
Stephens said much of the goals can be accomplished without legislation, but added, “We stand at the ready should it be needed.”
Sen. John Morse, the Democratic leader in the Senate, also applauded the initiative. But he said one of his preferences is to find ways to retain and grow the businesses Colorado already has, instead of trying to compete with other states on recruiting new companies.
“It’s a basic business premise,” Morse said. “It’s easier and cheaper to keep an existing business customer. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try it, but not at the expense of losing sight of what you have.”
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