Transition meetings yield suggestions for new guv

By Ernest Luning

Colorado’s incoming administration got an earful from residents across the state over the last two weeks at a series of regional transition meetings called to brainstorm ways to solve problems and create opportunities.

State Rep.-elect Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, affixes a sticker to a challenge she believes should be top-most on incoming Gov. John Hickenlooper's agenda at a transition meeting Nov. 20 at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. The transition team held meetings around the state to gather suggestions for solving the state's problems.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Organized by Lt. Gov.-elect Joe Garcia and entrepreneur John Huggins — who spearheaded economic development efforts for Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper during the Democrat’s first term as Denver mayor — the meetings produced suggestions both big and small. Abolish home rule for Colorado cities so businesses only have to deal with a uniform sales tax? Amend the state Constitution to allow the government to invest in private business? How about not getting carried away with green energy investments, instead looking to coal liquification? And don’t forget many of the state’s economic powerhouses first moved here because Colorado is a great place to live, a great place to raise families.

Whatever the Hickenlooper administration decides to do,participants said at a regional meeting Nov. 20 at the Nighthorse Campbell Native Health Building on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, don’t forget Colorado “has a target on its back” and other states are anxious to swoop in and take business away from the state.

While some of the ideas tossed out probably won’t rise to the top of the agenda, a sense of urgency prevailed.

Participants at the Aurora meeting were in general agreement what opportunities deserve the most consideration and which challenges need the most attention.

“I think we have lost our way with regard to research institutions,” said Lilly Marks, executive vice chancellor of the Anschutz Medical Campus, a churning economic engine combining state-of-the-art medical facilities with cutting-edge bioscience research.

Warning that the state is “at a precipice,” she used her own campus as an example: “In this square mile, we are generating as much income as the entire ski industry,” she said, earning gasps from the small crowd. But that could all change in a short time, she said, because Colorado is “seeing a brain drain to states that are on a giant shopping expedition.” The state, she said, should at least keep what it already has, and had better get busy.

Pointing out that “is going to be a state of knowledge workers,” Chris Gray, business development director at Aurora Economic Development Council, said the state needs to focus energies on STEM education — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The residents gathered at the Aurora transition meeting agreed, voting top rank to solutions proposed by Marks and Gray. Support for research universities and STEM education led the list, followed by a less-defined “More support for start-ups,” a proposal made by several in attendance.

And the top three challenges, as selected by the Aurora group? Water storage, lack of higher education funding and concerns about small businesses and their ability to weather the economic storms. “Small businesses not getting enough focus,” the display read. “State needs to address we are in a crisis and make capital available.”