We’ve got plenty to be thankful for

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This week is a time to count our blessings and to give thanks for the gifts and privileges in our lives.
While many of us turn our thoughts to shopping and giving after the big feast, let’s also stop to consider one of Colorado’s greatest assets – our small businesses. Small businesses account for more than 95 percent of Colorado companies and are an important factor in our state’s economic health.
We urge you to show your thanks to the small businesses in your community by participating in Small Business Saturday this weekend on November 26. Buying your gifts and seasonal supplies from a local merchant not only helps support that business, but contributes to the local economy by circulating money close to home.
Thriving small businesses are a key component to a healthy community, and you can do your part by shopping locally whenever possible. You can learn more about Small Business Saturday and pledge to “Shop Small” on November 26 here. That page includes an interactive small business guide that allows you to search for businesses in your zip code.
You can also search for businesses by category or name using the Chamber’s online business directory.

Also this week, November 25 – December 2, is the 5th Annual Buy Local Week, which also promotes the idea of supporting local business. That week culminates in a celebration on December 2 with live music and an auction.
Finally, because it is the season of giving, we want to remind you that the second annual Colorado Gives Day is coming up on December 6. Coloradans donated $8.7 million to local nonprofits last year, and hundreds of charities will participate again this year. Take a look at the list and remember to give to your favorite nonprofit(s) on December 6.

From our Chamber family to yours, we wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.


Helping our heroes by hiring them

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Over the past week and weekend, many of us spent time honoring those who have served in our nation’s armed forces, their sacrifice and their commitment to our country. No matter what we do to honor them, we cannot say “thank you” enough.

Area businesses have flown the stars and stripes, hosted sales and provided discounts to salute these dedicated men and women, but what they need even more than those kind gestures is steady work when they return from their service.

As The United States’ presence overseas winds down, Colorado businesses will experience an even greater surge of veterans seeking jobs. Many veterans have years of cross-cultural experience, have forged leadership skills in situations the rest of us can’t begin to imagine and have developed a vocabulary and an ethic that does not recognize the word “fail.” We know these skills transfer to what businesses often need.

Further, many returning veterans are seeking college and advanced degrees as they transition to civilian life. Armed with a comprehensive education benefits package – thanks to the post-9/11 GI Bill – more veterans than ever are seeking post-secondary education.

The University of Colorado at Denver is currently educating 700 student veterans and that number is expected to grow to more than 2,100 over the next three years.

The Veteran Student Organization at CU Denver, along with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, is seeking to ease this transition by helping veterans shift from their roles as service men and women to students and, from there, to business people and leaders in our community. One of the ways this transition will be accomplished is through a newly created “Boots to Suits” program, which matches students with mentors in the business community to help them find a new path and gain experience.

If you would like more information about becoming a mentor to a veteran, or about the skills these veterans have that can be helpful to your business, contact Cameron Cook at cameron.cook@ucdenver.edu  or Mike Petschel at michael.petschel@ucdenver.edu.

In March 2012, our Denver Metro Small Business Development Center will host its second NxLevel for Veterans, an intensive, 12-week business planning course that takes participants through a step-by-step approach to writing a professional business plan. Over the next several months, the SBDC will also be increasing its other efforts to help veteran entrepreneurs.

The White House says this sector of our population alone faces unemployment rates of 12.1 percent, compared to 9 percent for the overall population. Further, more than 850,000 veterans were unemployed in October alone. The U.S. Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes career fairs have resulted in jobs for 3,400 veterans and military spouses and 50 wounded warriors. Another such job fair will be held in Ft. Carson on Dec. 7.

Lastly, the White House announced today that 94 United States senators voted last week to pass two tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides firms that hire unemployed veterans with a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran, while the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers companies that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities with a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.

I hope one of the Colorado programs might of interest to you. We will keep sharing information about how you can show your appreciation for their service and help those veterans returning to our state.


Education: our view

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As part of the Chamber’s three-pronged approach to improve educational outcomes in Colorado: 1. Increase public awareness about Colorado’s education system; 2. Improve the outcomes of the system through reforms; and 3. Serve as a connector between those organizations that have proven track records of delivering better results and businesses who want to help improve education in Colorado, a team of Chamber staff, board members, educational professionals and experts with whom we partner traveled to New Orleans this week for the Institute for a Competitive Workforce ( ICW) retreat.

The ICW is a 501(c)3 affiliate of the U.S. Chamber and is focused on promoting “rigorous educational standards and effective job training systems needed to preserve the strength of America’s greatest economic resource, its workforce.”

We spent time at the retreat discussing provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act that are working and those that are not working. We also explored ideas for helping students excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education as they prepare for a workforce that needs workers with strong technical skills.

Perhaps most importantly for our group, we examined business’ role in education and shared ideas for how businesses and schools can develop partnerships to benefit student achievement. The ICW has produced a publication, What It Takes for Business to Help Drive School Reform, which outlines some ideas.

Our Denver Metro Chamber team then met for a private discussion around Colorado-specific examples and ideas for improving our own school system and results. Big thanks to Tom Boasberg, Bob Deibel, Jeani Frickey Saito, Lynne Mason, Sonja Semion, Alan Salazar, Kelly Underell and Chris Watney for being part of these roundtable sessions. We were encouraged from that experience that Colorado does indeed have the right people, the right goals and the passion to ensure Colorado’s kids are workforce and college ready.

We are preparing for the 2012 legislative session to approach our student achievement challenges through public policy. We remain committed to the implementation of SB10-191, the bill passed in 2010 focused on teacher and principal effectiveness, and we have worked closely with our partners in education to prepare the rules of implementation for approval during the legislative session.

Third-grade literacy will be a key proposal as well, because we know that third grade is where students transition from learning to read to needing to be able to read to learn. According to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, currently 8 to 10 percent of Colorado’s kids are functionally illiterate (meaning they don’t know all the letters of the alphabet or simple sight words).

Based on a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, students who could not read by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school.

We believe we must commit as a state to ensure kids can read in third grade-their future depends on it. As does the economic future of our state.