Bennet and Udall send jobs report to Obama

Senator Michael Bennet (Kersgaard)

On the heals of Rep. Diana DeGette hosting a women’s business forum with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper, Wednesday sent President Obama a report on innovation and job creation prepared earlier this year by Coloradans for an Innovation Economy, a group representing business and academia.

“As a delegation, we are committed to working together to build the right environment in Colorado and the country for innovation to thrive,” the authors said in a letter accompanying the report. “We believe that the Colorado Competes Report serves as a good template for a serious discussion on how we can spur innovation and put our country back to work.”

Coloradans for an Innovation Economy came together earlier this year at Bennet’s request to identify ways to promote economic competitiveness at the state and national levels through a greater focus on innovation and cross-sector collaboration. The group includes representatives from business and academia and was co-chaired by Mark Sirangelo, head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems; and Holli Riebel, President and CEO of the Colorado Bioscience Association.

From the report:

Even during the worst recession since the Great Depression, we saw our innovation-based industries grow in Colorado.8 Our state is 6th in clean energy employment. We have the third largest aerospace industry in the country, represented by more than 400 companies across the state. We have the 6th largest medical device industry in the country, and bioscience in Colorado is represented by more than 1,000 establishments, employing more than 100,000 people. Our state ranks 2nd in SBIR Innovation Research grants, 3rd in high tech employment, and10th in the number of granted patents.

Many of our economic indicators are strong, but we believe Colorado is in danger of losing its competitive position relative to the rest of the country and the world. Colorado‟s rankings in per-capita personal income and domination of the aerospace industry have declined in recent years. Over the last few years, our state has been losing venture capital dollars, and export dollars from Colorado are the 4th lowest in the country. Colorado is 48th in spending on higher education putting us at risk of losing our competitive workforce.10 In addition, a recent report gave our state only a “D+” in its manufacturing efforts.

Meanwhile, the national and global competition is running full steam ahead. As the Denver Metro Chamber recently stated, “Many of Colorado‟s competitors are far more focused on what we call „purposeful economic development.‟ Countries such as China are acquiring major stakes in rare minerals and playing an increasingly prominent role in the purchase of oil reserves in places such as Canada. Other countries have made giant leaps in the number of scientists, engineers and mathematicians they train for entry into the workforce. For these competitors, the future is now.”

Though each of our industries interacts with different federal agencies, we are all hampered by a federal regulatory structure that seems more intent catching our mistakes, than working with us to help us succeed. In an economy where competition is fierce, we are spending greater and greater time and resources complying with sometimes conflicting federal requirements.

We understand the need for regulation, but along with that understanding we desire a partnership with the government than enables both sides to succeed in making Coloradans better off. Several states have initiated a process under which excessive, redundant or wasteful regulations are examined and if determined not to be needed, eliminated. We recommend that you look into pursuing a similar effort at the state and federal levels.

Bennet, Hickenlooper and Udall also wrote a letter to Obama in which they express the hope that Obama will consider the report in drafting a national jobs creation plan. Obama is scheduled to deliver a jobs plan in a nationally televised address on Sept. 8.

Jobs seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, and for good reason. DeGette’s event, held on the Auraria campus, brought seven female business people together to talk about how Congress can help small business owners–especially women–succeed in the current climate.

The women on the panel were not shy about pointing their fingers at what they said was too much regulation and a tax environment that favors large corporations over small business.

DeGette started the forum by saying there are 12,200 women owned businesses in the Denver area, employing about 117,000 people and doing about $19 billion in annual sales.

Despite all the progress toward equality in the country over the past decades, she said women in America still earn only about 78 percent of what men earn for the same jobs.

Pelosi noted
that everyone is talking about “jobs, jobs, jobs” but that figuring out how to create more of them is hard. “There is nothing more optimistic than starting a business,” she said before adding the possible exception of getting married, which got a good laugh out of the mostly female audience.

Pelosi said it is no surprise that Americans are disillusioned with Congress, to which DeGette added that people elect Congress to get things done. “Instead they see bickering and division.”

Both women lobbied for The Dream Act and Pelosi said the country is constantly redefining itself as new people come in search of the American Dream.

“What I need from Congress is first to do no more harm,” said Gail Lindley, owner of Denver Bookbinding Company. “We need the confidence that we can grow jobs,” she said. Lindley said small businesses typically pay about 33 percent higher taxes than larger corporations.

Selena Dunham, owner of training firm Classique, said her company grew tremendously in the early 2000s before crashing in 2009. She said when times were good she was proud to offer health insurance benefits to employees but had to drop it when her business fell. She argued for tax incentives to small businesses that offer health insurance and also noted that some of her clients have government contracts and when she does work related to one of those contracts she doesn’t get paid until her client gets paid. “We need prompt payment from the government,” she said.

Kristy Schloss, owner of Schloss Engineered Equipment, said her company has benefited from stimulus spending. “We are alive because of the stimulus,” she said of her 113-year-old company. She said the country needs to do a better job of maintaining its infrastructure of bridges, roads, and water systems, many of which she said are failing.

Purnima Voria, Founder/CEO of the National US India Chamber of Commerce, noted that only 11 Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. She said corporations need to do a better job of placing and promoting women into jobs where they can compete for CEO slots later.

Diana Gadison, owner of Early Success Academy in Montbello, recounted growing up on welfare then watching her mother go to college to become a teacher and believing she could anything if she tried hard enough. As a business owner, though, she complained about regulation, even saying some regulations seem to cancel out other regulations do the point that she just wants to say “forget it” sometimes.

Lynn Gangone, Dean of the University of Denver Women’s College, said that only about 2.4 percent of woman-owned businesses ever reach $1 million in annual sales and that access to capital remains one of the most challenging aspects of starting or running a small business. She also noted that 60 percent of all new jobs being created in Denver require a college education.

At the end of the meeting, DeGette noted “three threads” that ran through the discussion: access to capital, the need for less regulation and the desire for tax relief. She said the country needs to eliminate duplicitous and unneeded regulation while ensuring “health and well-being.”

If tax relief were to be pursued, she said it should be for the small businesses that need it, not large corporations.

Pelosi said a better system of childcare that is more affordable and more available to working women would be a huge step that would not only be good for business, “but is a business itself.”

She said that most new jobs in the country will be created by small businesses. “Most wealth is created by small business,” she added.

She said Congress is looking at a number of pieces of jobs legislation. “We have to make our own environment for success, winning the future by shaping it ourselves. She said public policy needs to be crafted that inspires people to “follow their passions. We have always been a country of opportunity and hope,” Pelosi said.

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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