Power Lunch for Literacy

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We like putting our money where our mouth is and this week the Chamber did just that. In 2012, we worked hard to pass the READ Act—a bill that lays out our commitment and plans to ensure every child in Colorado reads before they leave third grade. We focused on that strategy because the connection between reading and high school completion is very high, and after third grade students must be able to read to learn—they are NO longer learning to read at school. We promised that we were not only committed to setting high standards for our kids, but also would do the work to ensure we achieve them.

Yesterday, several members of your Chamber team did just that. We went to Columbine Elementary school as contributors to the Mile High United Way program called Power Lunch. This program is a collaboration among Denver Public Schools, the Denver Public Schools Foundation and Mile High United Way that partners business professionals with third-grade students in a low-income school.

Joining us is one of our members, Polsinelli Shugart, and together we will read with our student reading buddies for an hour every week until the end of the school year. Now, here’s the really cool part—we have a yellow school bus that picks all of us up and drives us to meet with our third grade class in North Park Hill West.

Yes, it’s a commitment from each of us—we have promised the school and the students that we will be there every Tuesday (that’s our team’s day) to read. Just as important, we have made a commitment to create a relationship with that child so they can count on us for the entire year and, maybe, beyond. And, the relationship with the student builds fast—Anthony (my reader) has already challenged me to a dance-off since we both learned we like Wii. (I’m seeing a great literacy fundraiser in our future.) This entire experience will likely turn out to be one of the teambuilding experiences we’ve had at the Chamber team in a long while.

There are so many ways we can all help ensure Colorado’s kids get an excellent education. For more information you can contact any Colorado school district. Below are some links for foundations associated with the bigger districts:

DPS Foundation’s School Partners program

Jeffco Public Schools Foundation

Aurora Public Schools Education Foundation

Douglas County Educational Foundation

Littleton Public Schools Foundation


The Chamber’s Building Remodel Project

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For nearly 150 years, the Denver Metro Chamber has worked to make our region and our state prosper. From bringing the first railroad to Denver in 1867 to helping make Denver International Airport a reality in 1995, the Chamber has played an important role in shaping the quality of life along the Front Range and throughout Colorado.

The varied issues we’ve been involved with have one thing in common—they are all focused on our future. And, that focus hasn’t changed at all. As we engage with many of you to identify the pressing issues and the greatest opportunities of our day, we continue to think of that work in terms of what Colorado’s economy needs to be able to thrive years from now.

In addition to being future-oriented, many other aspects of our brand as a business community are demonstrated consistently in these conversations. We are a diverse economy, from aerospace to agriculture. We are innovators who learn from our past and continually challenge ourselves to perform better. We are collaborators who thrive when we work together but also with tremendous respect for the contributions of the individual. We value hard work and at the same expect ourselves to work smart too. Many of us chose to live in Colorado because we love our outdoors and the active lifestyle. We are people who believe our state can have it all by working together and by working hard. We believe each of us has a responsibility to provide a helping hand to others when they need it, and we deeply honor those stories of overcoming great hardship to achieve a goal. We are optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. Some might say we are a paradox.

The Chamber serves as a space where thousands of Colorado’s business and civic leaders meet each month to engage in this work and reinforce these values. What we have come to realize is our space can work better for you, for our Chamber team and better reflect who we are as a business community—our brand.

Beginning in December, our home at 1445 Market Street will undergo a complete remodel. This exciting project will infuse the Chamber’s brand and its history—showcasing the industries of Colorado, honoring our western heritage, providing more collaboration spaces where problems can be solved and strategies developed, capturing that Colorado sun throughout our space and at the same time recreating the energy and innovation that permeates our business climate.

Every corner of this new space is designed deliberately to encourage dialogue and discussion—from huddle rooms and open air lobby areas, to an expandable board room that can open to the great Colorado outdoors. We are making decisions that support a health-focused work environment, from opening up our stairs so you actually want to take them to installing changing areas for those who might bike to the office or exercise at lunch.

We also know that our street presence makes it hard to find the building for visitors or new members. This project includes an exterior facelift to the front of the building, creating an entrance and a real first floor lobby.

The fastest way to get the construction done is for us to get out of the way. On December 13, the Chamber will move to a temporary space at 1515 Arapahoe. We will be able to host some meetings in the temporary space but not all of them, so please be mindful of the location noted for Chamber and affiliate meetings between December and May. Also, if you have meeting space that we might be able to use during this transition, please let us know. You can contact Laurie Troge at laurie.troge@denverchamber.org.

We will continue to communicate with all of you throughout this process. And, our sincere thanks to the many of you who have shared ideas and feedback on how our space can better serve you.


Lessons from LEX

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Tom Clark said it best: “Of the 19 Leadership Exchange (LEX) trips I have been on, Pittsburgh ranks in the top two.” A huge part of the reason behind his response is our collective ignorance about how truly amazing this city is.

From the kickoff of the trip with Mayor Tom Murphy setting the scene of Pittsburgh’s renaissance, to an incredible panel on oil and gas, to learning about connected medicine with Rasu Shrestha, to an amazing dinner and cocktails at the Phipps Conservatory, this LEX trip was truly remarkable.

There was a magic spark during this LEX experience and I have identified two reasons why. First, it is because of the PLACE. The selection committee really had to push hard for the delegation to go to Pittsburgh. (Hey, let’s be honest—it’s not on anybody’s bucket list.) Our view of this city is that it is old, dark and dirty—the steel town city of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.

Truly, the city has undergone two renaissance periods—the first in the post-World War II era and then again in the 1980s. This community revitalization has left the city with a remarkable community filled with parks, cultural treasures and a history of strong academics. In 2010, Forbes named it the most livable city in the United States, and we got to see why, firsthand.

The second reason is because of the PEOPLE—we had a fantastic combination of attendees. The particular mix of experienced professionals (that’s what we call us old folks) and those new to the trip was important for creating energetic dialogue and debate far into the night. I made several new friends and connected closely with long-time Chamber supporters and colleagues. We are truly thankful to the sponsors of this trip, especially presenting sponsor Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

Every LEX trip brings with it great opportunities to learn from other communities. For me, the big takeaway was the simple reminder that working together is the only way we will solve challenges or take advantage of the opportunities before us.

We saw examples of this in Pittsburgh again and again. This thinking has led to a thriving arts and culture scene, as well as creative solutions to education issues, making for an educated and vibrant city where it’s young people want to stay. The perfect example is their Cultural District. It is not named after anyone or anything—it belongs to the community.

Lastly, I just want to mention our incredible Leadership Foundation team—even in a transition, they created and managed one of the most impactful LEX trips in the 24 years we’ve been doing these. They kept 165 civic leaders on task, on time, happily fed and returned home safely. Hats off this year’s Board Chair, Cindy Parsons of Comcast, as well—leadership matters and Cindy delivered. It was a trip to be remembered because lasting ideas will come from it.


Investing in Infrastructure Matters

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The Denver Metro Chamber places infrastructure as one of the three pillars that are needed to build a thriving economy. Infrastructure is literally the foundation of our economy—those roads that move goods and workers with ease, the transit options from trails to trains, that drinking water that keeps coming out every single time we turn on the tap, the American-produced energy (both traditional sources and renewable) that powers our day-to-day lives.

The challenge is that we can’t take these investments for granted. Our nation’s infrastructure is aging while our investments have not kept pace with the demands of the 21st century economy. We must have better long-term plans for a sustainable funding mechanism that will allow us to maintain our infrastructure systems and grow them when needed.

Consider this:

· The U.S. is currently investing less on infrastructure as a percentage of GDP than Europe, China and even a number of emerging countries. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

· For every $1 billion in federal investment in transportation infrastructure, an estimated 27,800 to 34,800 jobs are created. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

· For every $1 invested in public water and sewer infrastructure services, approximately $8.97 is added to the national economy. (U.S. Conference of Mayors)

· The primary funding for Colorado’s roads comes from gas taxes, and Colorado ranks 33rd in the U.S. for gas tax per gallon. And, with vehicles becoming more and more efficient, this tax collects less money even when we place the same amount of wear and tear on the roads. (Colorado Department of Transportation)

· In 2011 transportation funding represented 5.4 percent of the state’s total budget. In 1980, it was more than twice that 12.7 percent. ( Toward a More Competitive Colorado, 8th edition)

While the data shows how challenging this issue is our nation, it is also is a pressing issue for Colorado. Further, we know that the federal government no longer has the capacity to make these investments for states like they have in our history. The solutions will have to be up to us.

Making the issue even more challenging is the devastating flood damage to our state’s infrastructure—we lost 200 lane miles of state highways, 30 bridges have been destroyed and 20 have serious damage. Statewide, it is estimated it will take $475 million to repair the state, county and U.S. roads and bridges damaged from September’s floods.

The Chamber, Building America’s Future and the American Society of Civil Engineers are co-hosting a policy forum on infrastructure investments to further explore these challenges. The event is called Investing in Infrastructure Matters and will be held on October 24.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell will lead the conversation. He currently serves as co-chair for Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of leaders who are dedicated to create a new era for infrastructure investment.

Rendell will be joined by a panel of Colorado’s leaders including Don Hunt with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Tony Milo with the Colorado Contractors Association and Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning. Mayor Gunning represents the Metro Mayor’s Caucus, a group working hard to find local solutions to the gap in our state’s infrastructure investment.

The nation’s current transportation funding law (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) is set to expire in less than one year, so this discussion is timely. And, we hope you will join us as the business voice is critical to finding the right solutions to this challenge. Click here for sponsorship and registration.


Groundbreaking Tech and Innovation

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You couldn’t have missed it—another successful Denver Startup Week is in the books. More than 5,000 registered to attend the second annual event, doubling last year’s attendance.

The success of the event, spearheaded by our partners at the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Colorado Technology Association, is another effort to reinforce how supportive this region is of start-ups.

The rankings support this notion even more:

-Colorado is second in the country for our share of total business locations that are high-tech.

-Colorado also has nearly 60 percent higher-than average concentration of high-tech jobs than the rest of the country.

-Colorado is ranked second in the country for entrepreneurship and innovation.

-Colorado is ranked fourth in the country for venture capital investments and number 12 for patents granted.

Innovation is more than just something a few businesses engage in—it is part of Colorado’s culture and pervades all we do. It means that our companies are ahead of the game—and it is only through such risks that we get the rewards of being one of the most innovative and creative workforces in the country.

The Chamber is working to keep this innovative status strong with our second annual Denver Biz Tech Expo on October 24. This event will be held at the Wings Over the Rockies Air Space and Museum. The Expo creates a synergy among tech businesses—small, medium to large—while providing a forum for all business to learn how technology can help advance each of our companies.

The Expo is designed to help local companies operate more successfully in today’s competitive global marketplace with the most advanced technology available. This year’s theme, “Navigating the Cloud”, will provide Colorado companies with the latest cloud solutions in every area of business and technology from the top global providers.

The Expo will also host a Town Hall Meeting, featuring a panel of Colorado’s best and brightest—Kristin D. Russell, State of Colorado secretary of technology and CIO; Dr. Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel for advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Monisha Merchant, senior advisor for business affairs for U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. The Town Hall will be moderated by Erik Mitisek, president and CEO of the Colorado Technology Association and co-chair of Denver Startup Week.

A critical part of the tech industry’s success in Colorado also means we ensure a workforce who can fill these jobs in the future and encourage kids to explore their interest in the tech industry. This year, proceeds from the Expo’s ticket sales will be used to fund technology scholarships for two Denver Public Schools students.

So, Colorado—let’s keep the momentum going! Register for the Denver Biz Tech Expo at http://www.denverbiztechexpo.com/ and I look forward to seeing you there.


Help our fellow Coloradans

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On September 12, the Chamber held its Annual Meeting. Our theme at our meeting was that we are still pioneers in Colorado—we value hard work, we are persistence, we collaborate and we are resilient. This pioneering spirit was evident within Colorado’s first homesteads, farms and ranches—the famous barn raisings, celebrations of life’s milestones, volunteering for the local fire department, building the school house and especially in times of crisis.

Those values are still present today.

And, September 12 now holds the distinction of being the wettest day in Colorado’s history. The previous record was in 1919 at five inches. Last Thursday, we almost doubled that with nine inches of rain. As each day passes, all of us are better understanding the magnitude of Colorado’s flood devastation.

According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, 12,118 people are under mandatory evacuation as wide-spread flooding has affected 17 Colorado counties, while close to 2,000 people have stayed in shelters throughout the state.

It is estimated that 1,502 homes have been destroyed and 17,994 have been damaged due to flooding. In Larimer County alone, it was reported that more than 6,000 homes and 700 businesses have been damaged or destroyed by the floods.

The Colorado National Guard has been called to duty to report to the disaster, and Colorado’s employers’ are showing their support. Colorado’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) chairman, Rear Admiral Dick Young, United States Navy (Ret) said, “Supportive employers are critical to maintaining the strength of the National Guard and Reserve units and allow Guardsmen and Reservists the opportunity to serve our country more effectively and with greater peace of mind.”

Major General H Michael Edwards, The Adjutant General of the State of Colorado, has also expressed his support and appreciation to employers. Read his letter to employers here.

Here are some ways you can help:

1. In addition to FEMA assistance, businesses that have been affected have access to low-interest loans available through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Information can be found at the Colorado SBDC website www.coloradosbdc.org.

a. If a business has suffered physical damage to buildings and equipment, an emergency loan is available and the application is due within 60 days. Loans can reach a maximum of $2 million.

b. If a business has suffered economic injury from flooding, such as loss of sales, vendor issues or the inability to pay bills, an economic injury loan is available and application is due within nine months.

2. To support the recovery effort, the American Red Cross advises that the best way to help is to make a financial donation to support disaster relief. Visit their website here, which details Colorado shelters, search for people affected by flooding and donate small goods.

3. Tonight, Colorado TV stations in conjunction with the Red Cross will hold a telethon from 4-10 p.m. on Rocky Mountain PBS Channel 6 to raise funds for flood victims. All funds collected will be split between Weld County Food Bank, Food Bank of Larimer County and Community Food Share of Boulder County.

4. HelpColoradoNow.Org is a partnership between the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and Colorado Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. This initiative brings together government agencies and non-profit organizations so they may better assist communities affected by disasters.

Governor Hickenlooper said recently that the state has “a lot of broken roads and broken bridges, but we don’t have broken spirits.” Indeed.

And, we all stand ready to rebuild our infrastructure, but more importantly the future of those who have been so impacted.


Telling your story

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A big part of our job at the Chamber is to highlight the great work of our members. And, this week a tremendous opportunity presented for us to do just that.

Gloria Neal, storyteller and newscaster extraordinaire, likes to share stories about how businesses and employees make a difference in our community. We told Glo (and, once you meet her, you will see where she gets that nickname—she brightens everyone’s day), we are the perfect organization to help.

We not only have 3,000 members and 300,000 employees who care deeply about our community, but we also have a Foundation (the Denver Metro Leadership Foundation) whose core mission is to increase civic engagement in Colorado.

Gloria’s vision is to be able to use her weekly show on CBS4 to shine a spotlight on companies and business people highlighting all the ways we can and do give back to our communities. She wants inspire others to give back by showcasing these efforts.

So whether your company is providing a wellness coach for your employees, building a playground, or reading to kids, we want to hear and tell your story. We also want those stories about your employees who volunteer in our community – mentoring youth, raising money through runs or bike rides, or conducting drives to help deliver resources needed by a non-profit.

Send us all the great work you are doing out there and we will pitch it to CBS4. You can send your examples to Laurie Troge at 303-620-8022 or laurie.troge@denverchamber.org.

By the way, tomorrow is our 129th annual meeting. This event is especially powerful for me—four years ago I had the chance to speak to you at this event for the first time (it was before I was even officially hired) and I will never forget how it felt to look across that room filled with nearly 1,000 people who make up our business community.

Thank you for making the Denver Metro Chamber the remarkable organization it is. Your participation so enriches the lives of all Coloradans—we are truly grateful for your membership and the hard work you do every single day. I am more honored than ever to serve each of you.

Speaking of honor, today we remember 9/11. At our Conversation With program today we listened to Ken Greene, deputy manager of aviation at Denver International Airport, share his powerful experience as a 9/11 survivor. Ken was employed at the World Trade Center Port Authority headquarters and was in the north tower when the first plane struck on 9/11.

Today, let us remember all the victims, the survivors, the families and all the first responders and military personnel impacted.


Colorado’s innovation ecosystem

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In November of 2011, Governor Hickenlooper created the  Colorado Innovation Network  (COIN) inside of the office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT). COIN’s purpose is to stimulate Colorado’s “innovation ecosystem” by connecting people, programming and ideas to each other.

This year’s annual summit started with the same energy and excitement as the brains behind the Khan Academy presented. And, if you haven’t used this website—you must visit it now: https://www.khanacademy.org/

Sal Khan was inspirational as he shared his story about how this educational powerhouse came into being.

OEDIT’s executive director, Ken Lund, also gave me the opportunity to be part of a conversation with Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewery and David Butler, Coca-Cola’s vice president of innovation.

Both emphasized the most important aspect of ensuring you have an innovative work force is to “encourage exploration” and “intellectual curiosity”.

A concept that many in the audience commented on was this notion of the difference between enterprise companies who are good at scaling vs. start-ups who are good at building.

Business start-ups struggle with scale. According to Forbes, Colorado launches a start-up every 72 hours, but 95 percent of them fail.

On the other side, established companies know how to scale but often struggle with how to start a new idea.

David framed the next evolution of innovation as “scale-ups.” Bringing the starts-up and the scalers together to have the complete skill set necessary for success in the future.

Innovation is critical to our companies but also to our region. We must ensure to never take innovation for granted and become more deliberate and recognize how important it is to our future what COIN is doing for Colorado. I hope many of you get the chance to be part of this year’s summit.


The Guppy Tank in Colorado

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What? Venture capital funding can be a positive experience and meet the needs of a broad range businesses in Colorado? The last several years have seen events popping up around the country designed to help small businesses hone their funding pitches.

Perhaps the best known is NBC’s “Shark Tank” a television show that allows small businesses to pitch to big-time investors in order to secure funding. The trick is you have to be brave enough to do it in front of millions of television viewers. And, we know bravery shouldn’t be the primary factor when deciding which great ideas deserve funding. Here’s where the cool part comes in—The Guppy Tank knows that too.

I met this week with a team of investors—Darrin Ginsberg, John Engleking and Marc Cole, who, having been inspired by Shark Tank, decided to create The Guppy Tank, an event-based capital provider for small businesses. And, they are bringing their idea to Denver now.

Businesses seeking between $25,000 to $500,000 can submit their proposals in the next few weeks (they have already received more than 30 submissions) and on September 12, applicants will find out if they have an idea that might get some financial backing.

The Guppy Tank has held two events in California and the September event will be their first outside that state. They decided to come to Colorado because they felt the business community is willing to help each other succeed here. And, we haven’t disappointed them yet. They have been amazed by how well we work together—sharing contacts and connections without expectation of a quid pro quo. This is what makes us unique…we really believe that supporting new entries into our markets makes our entire economy stronger. Best of all, we love to compete!

What we like most about The Guppy Tank is that the investors give feedback and suggestions to everyone who submits—not just those they fund. Even those small businesses, for whom The Guppy Tank is not able to identify investors or develop funding strategies, will gain insight into how they can improve their pitch.

This is a great opportunity for our members to engage and find that funding source that can help you start your dream company or take your current business to the next level. Get your applications in early. You can learn more about the Guppy Tank or submit your proposal to them by clicking here.

Let’s show them how innovative Colorado is. Good luck!


Blazing trails for small business in Colorado

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Collisions help drive innovation. Okay, I don’t mean car accidents, but coming together, sharing ideas or lessons. Brainstorming solutions are great ways our Denver Metro Small Business Development Center  (SBDC) helps companies in Colorado succeed.

As a matter of fact, this strategy has led the Small Business Administration and the White House to name the Denver Metro SBDC the best in the country (out of 1,100 centers) in 2012.

And, if you are supporting innovators, you can’t do it without being innovative yourself. Last Saturday, the Denver Metro SBDC hosted the third annual Main Street Mentors Walk at Central Park in Stapleton. We matched 75 early-stage entrepreneurs with 70 seasoned business owners for a 5K “walk and talk in the park” (because we can multi-task in Colorado.)

We are the first SBDC in the country to create such an event and we are seen as a thought leader in how we engage our small business community. Since the Main Street Mentors Walk debuted in 2011, three cities including Los Angeles, California have expressed an interest in replicating the walk.

Denver Metro SBDC director Abram Sloss has been asked to speak at a national small business development center conference to discuss the success and development of the event.

Panelists at the conference are selected from SBDCs around the country that exceed expectations in one or more areas: center collaboration, corporate sponsorship funding, disaster preparation/recovery, non-traditional client engagement, bilingual programming and contracting opportunities for established businesses.

And, while a walk in the park sounds nice, it’s really the economic impact of our center that will get your attention. Here’s a snapshot of the 2012 Denver Metro SBDC numbers:

  • Clients consulted: 1,099
  • Training attendees: 2,517
  • Jobs created: 293
  • Jobs retained: 555
  • Business starts: 37
  • Increase sales: $14.8 million
  • Contracts obtained: $51 million
  • Capital formation: $12.2 million

This year, the Denver Metro SBDC is also blazing trails with the debut of entrepreneur curriculum tracks that build skillsets and broaden small business networks at the same time. These seminar tracks range in topics from social media to  finance to strategy.

I encourage Chamber members to take advantage of the seminar offerings—Gold and Silver members may attend for no charge and Bronze members may sign up for a nominal fee.

Our Denver Metro SBDC has access to more than 100 consultants in Colorado with a combined 277 years of small business experience and expertise ranging from how to start a business, how to position your company and how to exit in a smart and responsible manner.

Through our Denver Metro SBDC’s three tiered approach of seminars, coursework and free consultation, there isn’t an entrepreneur in Colorado that wouldn’t benefit from engaging with one of the best resources in the country.