Mayor-elect Hancock gets down to biz

The Colorado Statesman

Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock last week returned to the Lower Downtown business where he launched his mayoral campaign to kick off a series of roundtable meetings with small business owners. It’s part of a pledge the city councilman made during his campaign to meet with 100 business leaders as part of his First 100 Days Plan designed to jump-start the city’s economy.

“These discussions and relationships need to start now,” Hancock said after the meeting with a dozen business owners around a large table at RavenBrick LLC, a manufacturer of energy-efficient windows. Hancock, who was elected in a runoff on June 7, takes over for interim Mayor Bill Vidal on July 18.

Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock is joined by Greg Lopez, state director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Tameka Montgomery, executive director of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, in a discussion with a dozen small business owners on June 23 at the RavenBrick window plant in Lower Downtown. It's the same location where Hancock launched his mayoral bid late last year.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“This is an imperative step in what will be a focused effort to identify challenges and opportunities to Denver’s economic growth,” he said. “My administration will spearhead the effort to make city government more responsive to the Denver business community’s needs in order to grow our economy.”

Hancock — accompanied by Greg Lopez, Colorado director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Tameka Montgomery, who heads the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center — heard numerous suggestions from the lofty to the quotidian regarding how to make Denver an easier place to do business.

For some business owners, available venture capital is a chief concern. For others, it’s whether or not Denver cops can keep aggressive street people away from their front doors. But, most agreed, the city can do a lot better taming the tangled bureaucracy that confronts business owners.

Mayor-elect Hancock talks about how the city can foster job creation at a discussion with small business owners on June 23 at a Denver energy-efficient windows plant.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

“It is a big task to turn Denver around,” said Cory Schwab, a proprietor of LoDo’s Whiskey Bar and the Lobby, two establishments within a couple blocks of the meeting. “There’s a lot of red tape, and there’s the feeling that when you go down to Excise and Licensing, that you’re taking time away from what they want to be doing. It feels like you’re a burden on the city when you’re the one trying to create jobs and create businesses.”

He added that, even after nearly eight years with former Mayor John Hickenlooper, a former LoDo restaurant owner at the helm, the city’s obstacles to businesses are still in place.

“Denver,” he said, “is definitely not customer-friendly — if it was a small business, they’d be out of business.”

After the meeting, Hancock said that the complaints raised by Schwab and others came through loud and clear.

“Our bureaucracy creates, really, a conundrum for companies to decide whether they want to move or stay in Denver — that was powerful feedback for us, that we can do better than that,” Hancock said. “If we’re about creating jobs, we have to make sure the system is conducive to that.”

Mayor-elect Hancock, right, and Greg Lopez finish their discussion outside RavenBrick LLC after holding a round-table discussion on jobs.
Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman

Hancock said he plans to overhaul the city’s Office of Economic Development and launch something called Start-up Denver, involving public-private partnerships to ease the path for small businesses and new companies.“One thing I take away from this is,” Hancock said, “is that someone said the city bureaucracy is misaligned with the realities of business. If that’s occurring, we have a defeatist system in place, and we’ve got to correct that situation, I think that’s something we move quickly to do.”

Other business owners said transportation difficulties threw a significant wrench in their ability to do business.

Steve Allee, owner of Masterpiece Delicatessen, said imminent plans to expand Interstate 25 on his doorstep in the Highlands neighborhood could hamper business for the next two years. Others suggested coming up with a less expensive fare structure for the Light Rail train to encourage shopping trips up and down the line, something Hancock said he would discuss with Regional Transportation District officials later that day.

But the longest haul — and, potentially, the biggest pay-off for Denver business — would be delivering a nonstop flight to Hong Kong, Japan or Korea, Hancock and several at the table agreed.

“There is no greater opportunity than for us to get that nonstop flight to Asia,” Hancock told the group. He vowed to work with airlines to make it happen, potentially taking advantage of the new 787 airplane, which was designed for Denver’s altitude.

He also pledged to immediately address another concern raised by Schwab and RavenBrick co-founder Alex Burney: a recent influx of threatening panhandlers and vagrants who scare away customers or make employees fearful.

“We cannot open a second shift in this building,” Burney said, “because we cannot guarantee their safety after dark.” It’s not just an inconvenience, he said, it’s costing his company more than a million dollars a year.

Hancock promised swift action.

“That’s real,” he said before departing the meeting. “That’s something we can immediately walk out of here today and talk to the Police Department and find out how do we create a safer situation today, and we’re going to do that.”

Steve Young of Petroleum Field Services said Denver has a long way to go, though, before it’s an easy place to do business. He recalled a contractor who examined his company’s expansion plans and told him bluntly: “If you move out of Denver, you could do this for half the price.”

The problem, he learned, was the city’s antiquated zoning code, which he acknowledged the city was in the process of updating. “But just getting things done in Denver is more difficult, and contractors are discouraged,” he said with a sigh.

After the meeting, Hancock said it had been a fruitful discussion.

“It’s an excellent start,” he said. “There were some good ideas, some real opportunities with small business. It’s good to know some of these small businesses are actually hiring today, and they want to be a partner, they want to be a part of strengthening our economic system in Denver.”