Ask any Colorado legislator what they hope to accomplish in the upcoming session and they will tell you they want to create jobs, or help businesses create jobs, or remove regulatory impediments to job creation, or improve access to capital.
House Republicans introduced a package of jobs bills last week and Democrats followed with their own package a few days later. Republicans focused on cutting regulations while Democrats focused on worker training and programs to help small businesses grow.
“There’s a lot of talk about job creation in this building, but this package is actually going to be creating jobs,” State Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the House minority leader, said at a press conference Monday. “It is not just words when Democrats say we have a laser-like focus on job creation in Colorado.”
Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, and Ferrandino are co-sponsors of a bill to help identify promising new technologies at Colorado universities and research centers, and move those technologies out of the lab and into the market. Grants of up to $750,000 would be administered by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
“The development of new products and services from technology research discoveries will create more jobs in Colorado,” Young said in a press release.
Dave Allen, associate vice president for tech transfer at the University of Colorado, and Todd Headley, who oversees tech transfer operations at Colorado State University, spoke at the press conference in support of the Young-Ferrandino bill.
“We very much believe in economic development and job creation, and this bill would be an outstanding contribution to that,” Headley said.
Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, is sponsoring a bill to increase funding for Colorado’s small business development centers, something he says is one of the state’s biggest job-creation success stories. With a general fund appropriation of less than $85,000, SBDCs served more than 5,000 businesses and created 1,400 jobs in 2010. According to a recent analysis, SBDCs are producing one job for every $9,000 invested.
Tyler said the bill would provide an additional $300,000 for the next two years, money he says is needed to draw federal matching funds.
He told The Colorado Independent that currently the state is leaving money on the table by not having enough funding to match all the federal money that is available.
“SBDCs help local, home-grown Colorado businesses succeed,” Tyler said. “These are the businesses that build a strong foundation for Colorado’s economy and Colorado’s future. Supplying these businesses with the resources they need to grow and hire more Coloradans is the entire goal of this bill.”
Richard Lewis was at the press conference to talk about the benefits of SBDC help in the launch and growth of RTL Networks, his Denver-based IT services company. RTL was on Inc. Magazine’s 2010 list of the 500 fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States.
SBDCs “have a number of very useful programs and classes in everything from accounting to marketing to business planning,” Lewis said. “Many of my employees are still going to small business development centers for ongoing support.”
Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, is sponsoring a bill providing funding for the “Angel Investor” legislation he authored in 2009. The program authorized up to $20,000 in state tax credits to investors who provide seed money to Colorado’s start-up companies.
“This is a proven economic development tool, and what we’re talking about is trying to provide a funding mechanism,” Kefalas said.
Su Hawk, president of the Colorado Technology Association, spoke in support of Rep. Kefalas’s bill. “Access to capital is anemic in Colorado,” Hawk said. “This innovation tax credit would help.”
Rep. Ferrandino said funding for all three bills could come from reallocating tax credits currently being awarded in the state’s enterprise zones. Democrats said a recent analysis showed that it cost the taxpayers more than $130,000 for each enterprise-zone job created.
“We have other tax incentives and other things to help create businesses and grow good jobs that are much less expensive,” Ferrandino said. “We’re not getting rid of money that’s going toward economic development. What we’re doing is repurposing it to get the best return on our investment.”
Republicans, though, say the key to job growth is not more programs but less government interference.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said in an email: “Senate Republicans understand that growing the private sector is our only hope for solving our current economic challenges. This is why we spent the last year holding business roundtables with employers across Colorado to find out what is hindering their success.
“Dozens of employers participated in our discussions, many citing how they were on the brink of closing. We were told specifically how just one more rule, one more regulation, requirement or costly compliance would cause them to close their doors. Many employers shared how existing state regulations, rules and fees were inhibiting their success or limiting their potential for growth.
“In the 2012 session, Senate Republicans will put forward a plan of action based on this public input. We are sponsoring legislation aimed at rolling back government regulations which are hurting our economy and costing us jobs. We are committed to policies that promote business investment, job growth and prosperity. We believe this is our only path to success – there is no alternate route.”
Democrat Tyler scoffed at the notion that businesses are being hurt by over-regulation in Colorado. Tyler, who has owned several businesses, said “most businesses do well regardless of regulation.”
When businesses complain about regulations, he said, they are usually complaining either about federal environmental rules which the State Legislature has no control over or local building code and zoning type rules, which again the Legislature has no control of.
When they complain about state regulations, he said, it mostly has to do with trying to figure out what rules apply to them and how to comply. To address that, he said, he is introducing a bill to create a “regulation navigator” which might look something like Denver’s 311 system, where people can call one phone number and get the information they need to make sure they understand and can comply with state regulations. He said there may be an internet component as well.
House Democrats are also pushing a bill, called the “Skills for Jobs Act,” they say will make it easier for colleges to work with employers.
“We need to be creating opportunities for our students,” Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood, sponsor of the bill, said this week at a press conference. “We need to prepare them for the workforce, and what better way than to guide them toward the industries where there are jobs available right now?”
“It is important our students have the opportunity to be engaged and aligned with the current workforce trends to give them an opportunity to get good paying jobs,” Dr. Stephen Jordan, president of Metro State, said.
According to a press release from the Democrats:
Currently, the state Department of Labor and Employment collects data on job openings, and the state Department of Higher Education keeps track of enrollments and course offerings at universities, colleges and vocational schools. But the two departments don’t routinely communicate that information to each other.
When companies indicate they need new software engineers, the Department of Labor doesn’t necessarily tell the Department of Higher Education. In turn, the Department of Higher Ed doesn’t necessarily urge guidance counselors to steer students toward software engineering, and it doesn’t necessarily have the right tools to encourage deans at community colleges and universities to create more software engineering courses.
“Finally,” Rep Kagan continued, “Higher Ed does not have a process in place to tell companies, ‘Hey, Metro State has a number of students graduating this year with software engineering degrees that suit your needs. The Skills for Jobs Act changes all that.”
The bill directs the Department of Labor to report job-opening data to the Department of Higher Education. Higher Ed will then pass on the information to colleges and vocational schools so they can adjust course offerings, and students can make better course-selection decisions. Higher Ed will report these trends to businesses, which can then make smarter personnel decisions.
Kagan said the bill can be implemented at little or no cost to the taxpayer. Companies already provide the state with information about their job vacancies, so little or no new paperwork will be required, he said.
“This is a smart, simple idea, but it could go a long way toward getting people into good paying jobs right now, and in the future,” Rep. Kagan concluded.
Republican efforts include a bill by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to ensure whatever rules are in place when a business files for a permit will be the sames rules used when issuing the permit, even if the rules change during the time between application and approval.
Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Colbran, and Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, are bringing a bill to make it easier for Colorado forest products companies to use beetle-kill timber in Colorado.
The Responsible Budgeting Act, by Rep. Donald Beezley, R-Broomfield, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, would limit the increase in General Fund appropriations to 6% above the prior year’s appropriation. Any funds collected beyond that would be split between a reserve fund, transportation and capital construction.