By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Christmas came a few months late this year for the Bartley family.
At the beginning of last year, Watkins resident Duane Bartley, 40, said his wife’s fledgling veterinary business went under, and shortly after that he lost his job at a Boulder battery company. When the holidays rolled around, the family decided against sending Christmas cards.
“We figured if we couldn’t say anything really happy, maybe we shouldn’t say anything at all,” Bartley said. As winter turned to spring, the family was planning to plant a garden to grow their own food because they couldn’t afford groceries.
But that was before he got a phone call from UQM Technologies, the Frederick-based electric motor company that won a $45.1 million federal grant last summer as part of the stimulus package.
“They made me an offer and I came to work for them,” Bartley said. He began work April 6 as a quality engineer.
“I’m the new guy,” Bartley told a crowd gathered to celebrate the company’s growth at UQM’s new headquarters on April 30.
“Suffice it to say that this weekend, my wife, Nicole, and my daughter Jessica, and I will be putting stamps on Christmas cards,” Bartley said. “It’s never too late. Besides, this is Colorado, it just snowed yesterday.”
And with that, Bartley handed over the crowd of roughly 800 to another speaker.
“I hope you keep this job and don’t decide to run for my job. You’re good,” said Vice President Joe Biden, in town to tout UQM’s part in what the Obama administration says is proof its economic recovery plan is working.
“Our job is to have Duane’s story repeated and repeated and repeated across this country,” Biden said as he began a 40-minute speech.
“What’s going on here will not have been a success unless by this time this year next year, you’re not one of the senior guys,” Biden told Bartley.
It was the first stop on a swing Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, made separately through Front Range communities to highlight examples of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in action. While the vice president spoke in Weld County, his wife toured a pair of Denver-area community colleges where students are learning to apply new technologies to old jobs.
The couple appeared later that afternoon at a Denver fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Betsy Markey, a freshman Democrat whose 4th District seat is among the top targets for Republicans hoping to regain a congressional majority in this fall’s election.
Markey joined U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. Bill Ritter to warm up the crowd at UQM before Biden spoke. Pointing to figures released that day that said the American economy grew at a 3.2 percent rate in the first quarter, Markey called it proof the stimulus is turning the economy around. She also pointed to the high concentration of green energy and other technology firms on the northern Front Range, calling the area “the Silicon Valley of the West.”
“Only a Colorado congresswoman could say (California’s) Silicon Valley’s not in the West,” Biden said, “not in the real West.”
Ritter praised UQM as one of “countless success stories coming out of the Recovery Act,” saying the federal grant was responsible for “accelerating and enhancing” the electric motor manufacturer’s rapid growth.
“In Colorado, the New Energy Economy is our sweet spot,” Ritter said, getting in a plug for the renewable energy technology initiatives he’s championed as governor.
“Mr. Vice President,” Ritter said, “we’ve heard criticisms of the Recovery Act, but I’m here today to say to you, Mr. Vice President, thank you. Thank you for supporting innovative companies like UQM, companies that are putting people back to work, transforming our country’s manufacturing sector. Thank you for investing in innovation and infrastructure and in a clean energy future. Thank you for investing in Colorado.”
Last summer, UQM won a $45.1 million Department of Energy grant, which must be matched by private investments. The company, which last year boasted annual sales of only $10 million, used the money to construct a new headquarters and manufacturing facility down the road from its old location along Interstate 25 near Frederick.
After signing a 10-year agreement with Coda Automotive, an all-electric vehicle manufacturing company based in Santa Monica, Calif., UQM plans to ramp up hiring and employ 300 workers by this summer. The new plant can employ 2,700 employees at full capacity, UQM CEO Bill Rankin told the crowd.
“You are uniquely suited here in Colorado,” Biden said, praising the state’s record of innovation and optimism, exemplified by Markey’s “spunk.”
Saying that 15 percent of the Recovery Act’s $787 billion will create 675,000 jobs, Biden added, “It’s a pretty clear indication we’re going to do what we said, we’re going to create three and a half million jobs.”
National Republicans weren’t buying it. Pointing to a poll that shows a majority of Americans don’t believe the stimulus is creating jobs, National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Joanna Burgos blasted the Democrats in a release issued after Biden’s speech.
“Betsy Markey and Joe Biden’s comments today were incredibly out-of-touch given the harsh realities that Coloradans are struggling with each day unemployment rises,” Burgos said. “Clearly, neither is listening to constituents’ concerns, but Colorado voters will send job-killing Betsy Markey the message loud and clear this November when they send her packing.”
Hoping to avoid that fate, Markey bolstered her campaign war chest later that afternoon at a $150-a-head fundraiser at the Denver Sheraton attended by roughly 260 backers. Some Markey supporters paid $4,800 for a “private photo reception” with Biden, according to Fort Collins Coloradoan editor Bob Moore, who provided pool coverage of the event. A spokesman for the Markey campaign said the campaign didn’t have an estimate on the total raised at the reception.
In a speech lasting roughly a half hour, Biden recalled his earlier visit to UQM and noted that Markey’s district included other prominent alternative energy companies, including a Vestas wind turbine manufacturing plant in Windosor.
“This is a big deal,” Biden told the crowd of donors, drawing laughter from those who remembered a more profane version of the phrase caught by microphones when President Barack Obama signed the health care bill. “Thank God my mother wasn’t around for that,” Biden added.
Biden praised Markey for her work on the stimulus, energy policy, health care and deficit control. Pointing to estimates that health care legislation will cut deficits, Biden credited Markey for demanding cost savings in the bill before she voted for it in March. Last fall, Markey voted against the bill in the House, citing a lack of sufficient cost-cutting measures.
Markey called out Republican Sarah Palin in her remarks, noting that the former Alaska governor earlier this year placed Markey and fellow Blue Dog Democrat U.S. Rep. John Salazar on a target list.
“I have to be honest,” Markey said. “While I wear it like a badge of honor that Sarah Palin doesn’t want me in Congress, I have to say it is disheartening to see her run around the country asking, ‘Well, (how’s) that hopey-changey thing going for you?’ Since when did hope and change become a bad thing?”