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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
The Short-term False Promise of Commuter Rail

The Colorado Department of Transportation released a study in May regarding commuter rail from Fort Collins to Denver. You can find information about the study here. It’s called “North I-25 EIS Commuter Rail Update.” EIS stands for ‘environmental impact statement.’ This particular report updates the commuter rail part of the North I-25 EIS that was released in late 2011.

Subsequent to the release of the commuter rail update the Coloradoan did a story about the study and commuter rail in general. While I’m quoted in the story, most of the key points I made to the reporter were omitted so I thought I’d share them with you. The main point I tried to convey is that commuter rail will be necessary in the long run but widening I-25 is the top priority without question.

Minus references to specific pages in the study, here’s what I shared with the reporter regarding the study, I-25 and commuter rail:

  • This is good information and necessary because conditions have changed since the original EIS was completed in 2011.
  • Most of the transportation conversations in Northern Colorado are focused on widening of I-25, and rightfully so. That said, eventually commuter rail will have to be built as the population of Colorado doubles and triples in the decades ahead. Every possible bit of capacity and efficiency in the transportation system will be needed. In that light, it is prudent for CDOT to periodically update the rail plan in anticipation of that eventuality.
  • In the shorter term, the interstate between Fort Collins and Longmont needs to be widened to 3 lanes each way by 2025, 4 lanes would be better and are actually called for in the original EIS. I was in a conversation with some area business leaders recently regarding the vision for I-25. The larger vision should be of the I-25 corridor as a well-functioning multi-modal system that eventually includes 4 lanes of interstate each way between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs with one or two of those lanes being managed lanes and commuter rail as part of the longer vision.
  • Right now I-25 north of Denver operates at Level of Service D. By 2030 or so that will be LOS F, meaning that it will routinely take 3 hours or so to travel from Fort Collins to Denver and DIA. The question being asked by business leaders is ‘Shouldn’t the vision be to have an interstate that operates at least at Level of Service C between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs?’
  • Keep in mind that North I-25 is a nationally designated freight corridor. It is the connection between two major national east-west interstates – I-80 and I-70. Commuter rail won’t help move raw materials and finished products. Nor will it provide enough congestion relief to make a difference. The point here is that a properly functioning I-25 is critical to the economic well-being of our area and the entire state.
  • There’s a romantic appeal to rail that tends to over-shadow the fact that it is a low-capacity, high-cost transportation option. According to transportation experts, there are about 2000 vehicles per lane mile on the interstate. That means you can move a lot more people by car than by train. Then factor in the costs: to build a mile of commuter rail costs $7 million to $26 million. In contrast, it costs around $2 million to build a lane mile of interstate (per the website of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association).
  • Protect the right-of-way for rail, periodically update the rail plan, but widen the interstate in the near future from 4 lanes to 6.

In summary: long-term look at commuter rail, short-term widen the interstate.

Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
My summer 2015 reading list

Sunday was the summer solstice, meaning it’s officially sum-sum-summertime!

I’m regularly asked about what I’m reading. In celebration of the first day of summer, here’s my summer reading list. It’s my usual mix of history, business and personal development.

I’m in the final chapters of “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-89,” by Joseph L. Ellis.

The popular perception is that the American Revolution was fought to create a new nation. More accurately, some disaffected citizens of the 13 colonies fought to break away from an increasingly oppressive British government. The outcome was 13 small republics held together in a loose confederation.

Ellis makes that case that a second revolution was undertaken to actually found the new nation long after the actual fighting stopped. This second revolution was stage-managed by the quartet of George Washington, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. They realized that the republican ideals of the American Revolution would die unless a new national vision was embraced. The political calculations and machinations employed stand in sharp contrast to the mystic, providential creation story we’re taught, but that makes America’s founding all the more fascinating and illuminating.

On several best-seller lists is another of my summer reads, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” by Charles Duhigg.

Duhiggg writes that the biggest stumbling blocks for most people are actually their own habits. Pure willpower isn’t sufficient to guarantee enduring change. Rather, the conscious process of replacing old, unproductive or destructive habits with new ones is the only way to succeed.

Technological innovation is the topic of my third featured book. The change swirling around us is concurrently unsettling, exciting and confusing. Future Trends reports that every 50 to 60 years we undergo a techno-economic revolution. Beginning in 1771, it was the Industrial Revolution, followed by the Age of Steam and Rail in 1829, the Age of Steel, Electricity, Heavy Engineering in 1875, and the Age of Oil, Auto, Mass Production in 1908.

We are now in the middle of the Age of Information and Telecommunications, which began in 1971. In the middle of these transitions, old models and processes are changed or replaced. “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in the Time of Brilliant Technologies,” by Erik Byrnjolfsson and Andrew McAfee brings the promise and peril of this transition into focus. It’s a particularly important topic for an innovative, forward-focused community like Fort Collins.

My favorite writer is David McCullough. His well-researched books are accessible and non-academic without being shallow. This summer I’m reading one of his older works, “The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914.” The dream of a navigational shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans was finally realized through monumental engineering feats on a scale never attempted before.

Finally, on my list are two offerings by local authors: “Make Your Job a Calling,” by Bryan Dik and Ryan Duffy, and “Ripple: A Field Manual for Leadership that Works,” by Chris Hutchinson.

Have a wonderful summer and happy reading!

Column originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan June 18, 2015

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Court Rules that Colorado Employers Can Terminate for Off-Hours Marijuana Use

Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court announced its ruling that employees can be terminated for off-duty use of medical marijuana. The Colorado Competitive Council released the following statement:

“Today, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously held that Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute does not protect employees from discharge for using medical marijuana away from work. In a highly anticipated decision, Coats v Dish Network, LLC, No. 13SC394, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the plain language of the statute that protects employees engaging in “lawful off-duty activities,” does not cover medical marijuana use, which is illegal under federal law.

The employee who filed the lawsuit, Brandon Coats, was a quadriplegic working in Dish Network’s call center as a customer service representative. Coats had a state-issued medical marijuana license to treat muscle spasms. He alleged that he used marijuana at home during non-working hours and was never high at work. Dish discharged Coats after he tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in a random drug test, in violation of Dish’s zero-tolerance drug policy. He argued that under the lawful off-duty activities statute, Dish was not permitted to discharge him for using medical marijuana during nonworking hours and off company premises.

In a straightforward and succinct opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court focused solely on the language of the lawful off-duty activities statute to decide that “lawful” refers only to activities that are lawful under both state and federal law. Justice Allison Eid declared “Coats’ use of medical marijuana was unlawful under federal law and thus not protected by section 24-34-402.5,” rejecting Coats’s and others’ arguments that the term “lawful” refers only to Colorado law. The court declined to address arguments about the underlying purpose of the statute, the medical need for individuals like Coats to use marijuana, and whether Colorado’s medical marijuana amendment made its use “lawful” or merely decriminalized under state law. The Supreme Court even declined to address one of the two questions it posed when granting certiorari: whether the amendment to Colorado’s constitution authorizing medical marijuana conferred a “right” to its use.

The decision did not address recreational use of marijuana, but the court’s interpretation of the lawful off-duty activities statute would appear to apply with equal force to the use of recreational marijuana, which of course is also illegal under federal law.

What This Means to You (and Your Members)

For Colorado employers, the decision is unquestionably a victory. Employers who implement drug testing protocols retain the discretion to dismiss employees for use of marijuana. For those employers with employees in safety sensitive positions, such as in the mining or manufacturing industries, the decision affirms a tool some employers rely on to ensure a safe workplace. It also ensures that Colorado employers subject to the federal Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations are not put into the quandary of having to comply with conflicting state and federal requirements.

At the same time, employers should not read too much into the decision, as it is not a stamp of approval for zero-tolerance drug testing. Coats was a sympathetic plaintiff, and his position as a telephone customer service representative highlights that a one-size-fits-all drug testing protocol may not be in an employer’s best interests. Employers should continue to make thoughtful, individualized assessments about whether a zero-tolerance drug testing protocol is in the company’s best interest, even if such practices do not violate employee privacy statutes.

And in a final word of caution, this decision will likely have little impact on non-Colorado employers, even for those employers in states that have medical or recreational marijuana. Few states have employee privacy statutes like Colorado’s, and the court’s decision is restricted to the language of Colorado’s law.”

Posted by: David May @ 11:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Elections Have Consequences

Elections have consequences. So far the ones from the April City Council elections are good. Look no further than last week’s City Council meeting for evidence that the elections were positive for the community.

First, on a 6-1 vote, the Council passed Resolution 2015-059 adopting an update to the Economic Health Strategic Plan for the City of Fort Collins. The only “no” vote was from Councilman Ross Cunniff, the same person who made news earlier this year attacking one of the community’s most respected companies. He had convinced the Council to put off adoption of the economic plan until after the elections in hopes of being able to make dramatic changes to the plan and the City’s economic department.

Second, the Council voted 6-1 on First Reading of Ordinance 070, 2015, appropriating prior year reserves in the general fund for transfer to the capital projects fund for the Lincoln Corridor Improvements Project (for design, right of way acquisition and construction of the Lincoln Avenue improvements from 1st Street to Lemay Avenue) and transferring appropriations to the Cultural Services and Facilities Fund for the Art in Public Places Program in the amount of $1,968,119. Improvements to this corridor have been in the City’s plans for years and were promised to move forward when Woodward sited its corporate headquarters on the property on the northwest corner of Lemay and Mulberry. Councilman Cunniff was the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Bob Overbeck had previously opposed these improvements in his district but reversed himself post-election.

Third, an encouraging aspect of the above votes is that new Councilwoman Kristen Stephens supported them. During the election she said she wanted to focus on common sense solutions for the community and was pro-job creation. So far that has held true.

It’s too early in the term of the new Council to make sweeping pronouncements, but it appears that a divisive alliance on the past Council has been replaced with community problem solvers. It’s a refreshing change. Elections do have consequences, and they appear good for the community.

Posted by: David May @ 9:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Business is about celebrating mutual benefit

“Before I started my business, I thought business was about taking advantage of other people, of exploiting them.”

That sentiment was shared with me over breakfast last week. It is revealing, encouraging and discouraging all at once.

My confidant is a former athlete who finds himself on an interesting and unexpected path of self-discovery as owner of a new business venture. While some people grow up around business or are predisposed to entrepreneurship, not this guy. Business was not part of his background and was not in the plans.

However, he is a goal-oriented problem solver. So when he ran into a vexing technology equipment problem, he figured out a solution. End of story, right?

But then something interesting happened: family and friends liked his new gear, so he gave them some. Their delight led to the realization that his personal problem was actually a common problem, and he could help a lot people.

That is the essence of all successful businesses: helping people meet their needs and solve their problems.

In the definition of free enterprise, emphasis is usually put on the freedom of businesses to operate for profit with little or no government regulation. Often overlooked, however, is another form of freedom: the freedom of consumers to choose what businesses they will patronize.

As happened with this guy before his revelation, it’s easy to misunderstand the symbiotic relationship between a business and its customers. Cheat, exploit, or mistreat a customer at your own peril. Solve a customer’s problem with an elegant solution at a mutually acceptable price and both parties benefit.

So, my new acquaintance’s candid admission was revealing in that it’s indicative of a common misconception that some have of business. It was encouraging to hear that he discovered the mutual benefit concept that makes business and our economy work.

I see this process of mutually beneficial self-interests at work year in and year out, and it’s a beautiful thing.

This is on my mind because during May we celebrate small businesses. Last week the chamber announced and celebrated a wonderful group of businesses. Finalists in the new business category were 970 Services, Horse & Dragon Brewing and Neurofeedback Clinic of Northern Colorado. Horse & Dragon was named Small Business of the Year, New Kid on the Block.

Finalists in the 1- to 10-employee category were Community Auto, Dora Grace Bridal and Eger CPA, with Community Auto named Small Business of the Year.

Finalists in the 11- to 50-employee category were the Silver Grill, Total Facility Care and Wilbur’s Total Beverage, with Total Facility Care taking the top honor.

The 51- to 200-employee category finalists were Aleph Objects, Greystone Technology Group and The Human Bean, with Greystone being named Small Business of the Year.

These finalists represent the great companies we have in Fort Collins. They take care of their customers, and in turn are rewarded for doing so.

Column originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan May 28, 2015

Posted by: David May @ 8:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
A few Chamber updates
Summer vacations just started for the kids but not for us. Here's a quick overview of recent happenings at the Chamber.

  • The Small Business of the Year Breakfast on Wednesday went very well. We had about 170 attendees at the Hilton and the keynote speaker was great. If you haven’t heard of Decibullz, you should check them out at decibullz.com. It’s a great local start-up with tons of upside potential. The Small Business of the Year winners are listed here. Among them is chamber board member Pete Gazlay of Total Facility Care. Board member Mat Dinsmore of Wilbur’s Total Beverage was a finalist. Ann Hutchison was in charge of this event, ably assisted by Audrey Fraijo and Ken DeSimone of First National Bank did a fabulous job as emcee.
  • Then that evening we had our Spring Business Showcase / Business After Hours at the Hilton. Over 200 people attended and we had 47 vendors. Kim ran this event with lots of support from the staff but especially Mimi Jones.
  • I presented at CSU to a delegation from Slovenia. They were on a trade mission as part of AmCham Slovenia. The AmChams are a longstanding part of the U.S. Chamber’s effort to foster relationships, trade and free enterprise. The Slovenian Ambassador to the U.S. was in the group. Speaking of ambassadors, a couple of weeks ago Congressman Jared Polis popped into the office and in tow was Australian Ambassador to the United States Kim Beazley. We may need to open an international affairs division!
  • We attended the City Council Retreat this past weekend. More specifically, Kevin Jones gave up his Saturday night and Sunday to watch the newly seated Council. These events are always interesting, especially after a new Council is seated. They go through a process of figuring out how to work together as a group of 7 and how to work with the staff. Then they focus on what they want to work on together in terms of priorities. Saturday night was a bit rough on a couple of Council members that openly campaigned against Horak. They were generally able to move past that to develop this list of priorities:

Highest priorities are over the next 2 years are:

Sales tax capture and recapture initiative
Police Substation
Housing Affordability
Waste to Energy
Air Quality Enforcement
As a city what do we want to be when we grow up
Citizen Access to Information

Second tier priorities included:

Intergovernmental Separator Agreement with Timnath
City Foundation
I-25 Funding
Train underpass
Bike Patrol - Neighborhood policing
Rental Licensing / Revenue Fee
Gentrification Plan -
Parks build out - redevelopment
Water tap fees
  • Among other government meetings we were present at this week were: City Council Futures Committee, the city’s Economic Advisory Commission, Councilman Ray Martinez’s Listening Session, Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak’s Listening Session, the city’s Affordable Housing Open House, and the city’s River Health Assessment Framework Open House.
  • We led a meeting of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance this week and have ramped up ally recruitment plan. We are planning to do a supporters’ update in June.
  • At the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance meeting this week we got an update on the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP) which includes building Glade Reservoir northwest of Fort Collins. Here’s the timeline for the project, which began in 2004:
June 2015 – the Army Corps of Engineers will issue the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
July 2015 – public hearings on the EIS
2016 – final EIS
2017 – formal record of decision
2018-19 – refine the plan
2020 – start construction
2023-24 – construction complete
  • On Thursday we had 35 people in the building at lunch for our New Member Orientation.

Thank you for everything you do for our community and for the Chamber. It is greatly appreciated.

Posted by: David May @ 9:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Nearly 10% of Fort Collins-Loveland Economy Tied to Exports

If you don’t consider the Fort Collins-Loveland region a major export area, you would be right. Even so, you might be surprised to learn that nearly 10% of the area’s GDP (gross domestic product) is export related. That’s according to the Brooking Institution’s Export Monitor 2015 report.

Here are some Fort Collins-Loveland export facts:

  • Total value of exports, 2014: $1.590 billion
  • 7% of the economy comes from exports, which ranks 223 out of 381 metro areas
  • 9,501 jobs are tied to export
  • Leading export industries are: precision instruments, engine and power equipment, computer equipment, R&D services and agriculture.

To learn more, click here.

Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
State road funding vision out of step with public

The state issues committee of the area chambers of commerce, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, commissioned a statewide transportation poll in mid-April.

The findings are interesting and reveal a disconnect between state leaders and the general public.

First, the public clearly recognizes the growing problem with Colorado’s highway system. Eighty-nine percent of respondents believe Colorado’s roads and bridges are in desperate need of maintenance and repair. Eighty-one percent believe Colorado’s roads are too congested and are in dire need of additional lanes and capacity.

The public is sending a powerful message to the governor, state legislators and transportation officials: The highway system is under-performing.

Seventy-five percent of respondents believe state government should find the money to fund transportation projects in the current state budget by changing spending priorities or finding ways to save money.

The public’s message to state leaders is that transportation is a priority and we expect you to make room for it within existing resources.

Even so, we did test some sources for new transportation funding.

The poll asked voters whether they would support increasing the state gas tax to fund transportation projects. A small majority said yes, with 52 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. This might appear encouraging to proponents of increasing the tax, but starting with support that low for a ballot measure means it’s a guaranteed loser as support erodes as details are shared.

Voters were asked if they would support a $20 increase in license and car registration fees to fund transportation projects. Forty-two percent support this, 54 percent do not.

Regarding tolling, 64 percent support tolling Interstate 70 between Denver and the Eisenhower Tunnel to add an additional lane in each direction. The opposite is true on the north part of Interstate 25: 46 percent support an additional toll lane each direction between Fort Collins and Longmont while 52 percent oppose such tolling.

The most promising source of transportation funding would be the issuance of bonds. In 1999 voters approved the sale of what are known as TRANS bonds. The proceeds accelerated construction of projects around the state including the T-Rex project in south Denver and widening parts of I-25. The program operates using existing gas tax revenues and not an increase in taxes.

When voters were asked if they would consider continuing this program when it expires in 2017, 61 percent said yes.

With that encouragement, we asked the Colorado General Assembly to refer a measure to the ballot this fall to let voters consider the TRANS bonds idea. The measure passed the Senate but legislative leaders in the House defeated it at the request of the governor and CDOT.

It appears they want “new money” — such as a tax increase — and want to shift a big part of the interstate and highway system toward tolling and management by private vendors.

We’d like to support the governor and CDOT in finding resources to fix critical bridge and highway needs, especially the growing problem on north I-25. At the moment, however, their vision and plans are unclear and out of step with the public. Until they articulate a reasonable plan and build public support, we are headed towards more congestion.

Column originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan May 7, 2015

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015
I-25 Funding Option Killed by Legislature

In this space on April 21 I wrote a post titled “Widening I-25 – Swinging for the Fence.” I explained a funding option called TRANS Bonds that would fund billions in transportation projects in Colorado without raising taxes.

With the help of Senator John Kefalas of Fort Collins, we managed to get the bill through the Colorado Senate by a vote of 18-17. Unfortunately, it died in the Colorado House’s State Affairs Committee, which is known as a ‘kill committee,’ a committee legislative leaders use to stop bills they don’t like from reaching the floor for debate.

It was a long shot. While the outcome is disappointing, it wasn’t a jolting surprise.

What was surprising was the opposition by the Governor and CDOT. Both opposed the idea of bringing TRANS Bonds to the voters this fall. Yet both are on record pledging their support for funding the widening of I-25 and both lack a plan of their own to address the transportation funding needs in the state.

We’ll continue to work on options to fund I-25 and will begin to ramp up the pressure on the Legislature, Governor and CDOT to develop a clear and specific plan to fix north I-25.

In the meantime, thank you for reaching out to legislators. State leaders know that we’re serious about this problem and expect them to move past the empty rhetoric and get on with actually fixing the problem.

Posted by: David May @ 12:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Numbers to Ponder

Last Saturday I was on a 4-person panel convened by State Senator John Kefalas to talk about the future of the workforce.  Since we only had 10 minutes each for comments before the Q&A, I rummaged around in the attic of my brain for things I’ve been thinking about relative to workforce and presented them on one slide like this:

Numbers to Ponder
I-25
9th out of 365
250,000 in 2045, 164,825, additional 65,050 jobs
- 10-15%
$31,608 vs. $55,628
$38,877 (‘07)      $37,732 (‘09)      $41,311 (‘12)
66.2% to 62.7%
39% of 16-24 years old, +10% in 14 years
7% (‘95)   15% (‘14)   ~20% (‘20)
3 billion vs. 1.2 billion
50 – 60 years, technology revolutions
42% vs 45% vs 72%
0.52% (‘02) to  0.34% (‘12)

 

Here’s what they mean:

I-25. As in Interstate 25. My point to the group was that the growing congestion on I-25 is shrinking the labor-shed to the detriment of both employers and jobseekers.

9th out of 365. This is how Fort Collins ranks in under-employment. Out of 365 metro areas in the nation, we are 9th in the percentage of our residents that are working at jobs below their education attainment level. In essence, the community isn’t producing enough good-paying jobs.

250,000 in 2045, 164,825, additional 65,050 jobs. The population of Fort Collins will grow to 250,000 by the year  2045. That’s not the goal, but based on demography, it is likely. A city of that size will need a workforce of around 165,000 people. The punch line is that the community will need to add a net of 65,050 more jobs in the next 30 years.

-10-15%. This is the share of jobs the typical community loses every year through the natural creative destructive process of capitalism.  Most displaced workers are able to transition into a new role. The point here is to stay focused on the fact that jobs do disappear in the natural course of things and to pay attention to the need to replace them.

$31,608 vs. $55,628. All jobs have intrinsic value but some have more economic value. $31,608 is the average wage of non-primary employer jobs in Fort Collins. $55,628 is the average wage for primary jobs in Fort Collins. Primary employers are companies, large and small, that produce more than they consume locally and sell at least half of it outside the market. Primary jobs drive economic prosperity.

$38,877 (‘07),  $37,732 (‘09),  $41,311 (‘12). These numbers are the per capita personal income in Larimer County for 2007, 2009 and 2012. You need to look at a variety of numbers to get a good understanding of what is going on in a local economy, but per capita personal income is a good overall indicator.  These numbers show the impact of the Great Recession in 2009.

66.2% to 62.7%. The national labor participation rate has declined from 66.2% in March 2006 to 62.7% today. We are at the lowest rate since 1984. This is a disturbing number to me because as job openings have gone up, labor participation has not. It’s an indication that we are incenting people not to work through public support programs.

39% of 16-24 years old, +10% in 14 years. Here’s another disturbing number. 39% of 16-24 year olds don’t want a job. That’s up 10% over the past 14 years.  This is an indication of work ethic and motivation. This reflects in lifetime earnings and the quality of entry level skills when this job does eventually make it into the workforce.

7% (‘95), 15% (’14),  ~20% (‘20).  These numbers represent the growing ‘freelance economy,’ with 7% of people working independently in 1995 growing to  15% by 2014 and estimated to grow to 20% by 2020. Is this by choice or necessity and is it good or bad? My answer to the group was ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. It is both choice and necessity and both good and bad. For the short-term many displaced seasoned workers and new grads have had to make their own way by creating their own job. The big plus in all of this is that a more fluid and flexible way of working has emerged that deploys talent in a timely way to where it’s most needed.

3 billion vs. 1.2 billion. A few years ago Gallup Corporation did a worldwide survey on attitudes regarding work. They found that 3 billion people want good paying jobs (defined as steady work, 30+ hours per week). The rub is that only 1.2 billion such jobs exist. This could be a point of social and political unrest in different countries around the world. The key message for us is that our workers are competing globally and that our primary employers are other communities’ prospects. Staying focused on creating a good business climate and creating jobs should be Job 1 of all local leaders and policymakers.

50 – 60 years, technology revolutions. Every couple of generations we go through massive techno-economic revolutions. While they propel us forward, they are also disruptive. We are in the middle of one of those revolutions and some of the numbers cited above are indicative to the impacts. According to Future Trends, the last 5 techno-economic revolutions include: the Industrial Revolution (1771, started in Britain), the Age of Steam & Rail (1829), the Age of Steel, Electricity, Heavy Engineering (1875), the Age of Oil, Auto, Mass Production (1908) and the Age of Information / Telecommunications (1971).  In the middle of these revolutions, old models and processes no longer work very well and begin to change, and there is a glut of capital and surplus of labor. This type of change / disruption is ripe for temporary political ‘solutions’ that become permanent or long standing – minimum wage increases, Lifeline Assistance Program, mortgage assistance programs, expansion of disability insurance, food stamps, health care subsidies, etc.

42% vs. 45% vs. 72%. There is a lot of talk in the country about a ‘skills gap’ between what employers need and what works can do. In some locales that leads to the ironic situation of companies saying they can’t find good workers while the unemployment rate or underemployment rate is higher than average. However, these numbers represent a ‘perception gap.’ Research by McKinsey & Company found that 42% of business executives believe that students are ready for work and students generally agree with that with 45% saying students are ready. The punch line is that 72% of educators think young people are work-ready. This would indicate a need for closer collaboration between business and education providers.

0.52% (‘02) to  0.34% (‘12).  But, businesses have some culpability when it comes to the quality of the workforce. These numbers reflect a decline of in-house company training programs. According to Training Magazine, the share of GDP spent on instruction fell from 0.52% in 2000 to 0.34% in 2014.

What’s the story with all of these numbers? The message is that infrastructure (think I-25) impacts labor, be conscious as community leaders about disruptive macro-changes that impact the community and be proactive in doing something to create good paying jobs while not reaching for non-solution solutions. Finally, the working relationships between education providers and business leaders at all levels could be strengthened.

Posted by: David May @ 11:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Widening I-25 Swinging for the Fence

How old will you be in 2070? I’ll be a spry 115. Run the math on yourself then ask this question: Why is it taking Governor Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Transportation the rest of my life to widen I-25 to 3 lanes each way between Fort Collins and Longmont?

Fortunately, the chambers of commerce in Northern Colorado have put a plan into play to get this done much sooner.  A bill proposed by the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance (a joint committee of the Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley Chambers of Commerce) is being introduced in the Legislature today that would generate $3.5B for statewide transportation priorities. Here’s the best part: no tax increase.

This magic is made possible by the renewing the TRANS Bonds program. In 1999 Colorado voters approved a ballot measure that bonded half of Colorado’s federal gas tax revenue to jumpstart construction on two dozen key transportation projects in the state. Projects like T-Rex in the south Denver area of I-25 were funded this way.

The program expires in 2017, and the Northern Colorado chambers of commerce are proposing a TRANS Bonds II program. It would generate $3.5B for transportation projects including widening parts of I-25. First, a bill needs to get through the Legislature to refer the measure to the ballot. If that happens, in November voters would decide whether to support the measure.

Statewide polling conducted by NCLA on April 8 and 9 indicates 61% of voters support the idea. In contrast, voters are much less likely to support a gas tax increase and are adamantly opposed to increasing drivers’ license and car registration fees. Residents in Larimer and Weld counties were cool to the idea of adding a tolling lane on north I-25.

To learn more go to www.FixNorthI25.com. Halfway down the homepage you’ll see the TRANS II Bill link. While you’re there, consider contacting your state legislators to encourage them to vote for the bill.

The message:

  • I am <a resident of Northern Colorado or I am with X business>.
  • I-25 is a mess and needs widened sooner rather than later.
  • The TRANS II Bond measure that is being proposed makes a great deal of sense and I’m contacting you to ask you to support it.

Legislators to contact include:

To use a baseball analogy, we have been patching together the $965M to widen I-25 with walks and singles. The TRANS II Bonds program is a big swing for the fences. 

Posted by: David May @ 3:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Potpourri of Updates

The two Chamber-backed tax measures on the April 7 Fort Collins municipal ballot passed. Ballot Issue #1 was the renewal of a quarter-cent tax for 10 years for community public improvements. You can find the list of projects here. Ballot Issue #2 was the renewal of a quarter-cent tax for 10 years for street maintenance. Ballot Issues 1 and 2 passed by 80.53% and 85.53%, respectively.

Regarding elections, 3 of 4 Chamber-endorsed candidates won, so it looks like we’ll have reasonable city government leadership over the next couple of years.

Speaking of leadership, today is Mayor Karen Weitkunat’s last day in office. She served 8 years on the City Council, took a few years off then was elected mayor twice. While eligible to serve another term, she decided not to run again. Wade Troxell was elected as mayor to replace her. Mayor Weitkunat has a long and distinguished record of service to the Fort Collins community. While sad not to see her run again, she has certainly done more than her share for the community. Much thanks for your service Mayor Weitkunat!

In the late 1990s Colorado voters approved a program called TRANS bonds to fund highway projects in the state. The bonds are due to be paid off in 2017. The Chamber-led Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance is pursuing renewal of the TRANS bond program. We have recently met with the Governor’s staff and the Colorado Department of Transportation officials to discuss the idea.

In the odd and personal category, here’s one for you. I just returned from a trip to Iowa to see family and friends. In Fort Collins I’m an undistinguished, ordinary looking guy, comfortably within the healthy weight range for someone of my height. On several occasions, however, someone asked me ‘Are you okay? Are you sick?’ Uh, yep, I’m fine, just average! Only in a place like Iowa, right?!

Today is the last day for Anne Keith on our staff. After nearly 9 years with us, we’re very sad to see her go. Hewlett-Packard made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. That’s the bad news. The good news is that she’s staying in town. Join us in thanking Anne for the great job she did for us and wishing her well!

Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Vote for Progress

Today is Election Day, thankfully. You have to be as tired of reading and hearing about the elections as we are of talking and writing about them. Shortly we’ll know what direction the public wants to take city government and by extension the community itself.

Over the last month I’ve written that the “Election offers choice between progress, decline,” that “Ballot Issue # 2 = Good Streets Fort Collins,” about “Why Elections Matter,” and that there are clear distinctions between the candidates.

I’ll spare you from a rehash of all that and just say ‘ditto.’

One thing that is clear since I wrote last week is that community activists really don’t want the business community involved with local elections! This isn’t new, of course, but the vitriol is always somewhat surprising. The basic message is something like this: ‘Businesses and their evil minion – the chamber of commerce – are ruining our community and you should support the candidates they don’t support.’ Often there are flourishes about ‘corporate welfare, ‘rampant growth,’ and ‘traffic congestion.’ Never mind that the most of the writers moved here from another state and offer only hate-filled diatribes with no solutions to the ‘problems’ they cite!

Another thing is clear from seeing the general attacks on business and the specific attacks of the Chamber: businesses and individuals are right in their desire to donate anonymously to groups like Citizens for a Sustainable Economy to promote their beliefs and protect their interests.

The hypocrisy of people moving here then working to keep others out by using the coercive power of local government to set high fees and regulations on new development and driving up utility rates is a thing of wonder to me.  What angers me, though, is the slur against businesspeople, many of whom have been here for generations providing services and products, donating millions to charitable causes, employing people and underwriting government services through the taxes they pay directly and through the payrolls they inject into the local economy.

That’s why the elections matter. It’s better to have people in public office that have some appreciation of business and won’t instinctively work to drive them out of town or make it more difficult to do business here than it is to play defense the entire time an anti-business / anti-progress council is seated.

Troxell for Mayor, Ray Martinez District 2, Eric Kronwall District 4 and Gerry Horak District 6. Ballots are due at City Hall by 7:00 PM this evening.

Posted by: David May @ 9:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Distinctions drawn in city election

In a recent column, veteran Coloradoan reporter Kevin Duggan referred to city election time in Fort Collins as “silly season.”

Based on things I’ve seen, read and heard, that’s a pretty good moniker.

After attending three candidate forums, visiting candidate websites, reading candidate literature and media articles and profiles, I’ve come to the conclusion that you could call it “parsing season.” As words get parsed, at times you have to listen carefully to figure out where some candidates stand.

On some issues, however, there is a distinct contrast between candidates. Here are a few examples of clarity from this election-silly-parsing season.

Candidates fall into two camps on job creation and the economy: some want to be proactive in creating good-paying jobs; others believe that Fort Collins being a nice place is good enough.

The economy here is good compared to many places. Yet, we do have challenges including underemployment — we’re seventh in the nation — and growing poverty. Candidates favoring a more proactive jobs program include Wade Troxell, Ray Martinez, Eric Kronwall and Gerry Horak. Three of them — Troxell, Martinez and Horak — have actual results from their service on the Council.

In contrast, Ward Luthi, Nancy Tellez, Kristen Stephens and Carl Wangsvick all support a passive approach to economic health, believing that just having a nice town is good enough. Mike Pruznick’s position on job creation is unclear to me.

Another issue that clearly separates the candidates into two camps is the widening of Interstate 25.

The interstate is already a problem but will become an acute problem quickly unless it is widened to three lanes each way between Colorado Highway 14 in Fort Collins and Colorado Highway 66 north of Longmont. A one-hour drive to Denver will routinely take three hours within 15 years.

Troxell, Martinez, Kronwall and Horak are all on the record supporting widening I-25 while protecting the option for adding train service when feasible in the future. As part of the I-25 Coalition, Horak has already helped secure $40 million for the cause.

In contrast, Luthi, Pruznick, Tellez, Stephens and Wangsvick oppose widening I-25.

A third issue where there are two camps is whether to fix the traffic choke-point at Lemay Avenue and Vine Drive. Troxell, Martinez, Kronwall and Horak support finding a solution. In contrast, with some word parsing candidates Tellez and Stephens basically said no, Wangsvick was a firm no and Luthi and Pruznick seemed to say no when asked at the Coloradoan forum on March 11.

The final area of contrast involves relevant experience and leadership. Troxell, Martinez and Horak have a combined 31 years of service on the Fort Collins City Council. They are known to the public and have demonstrated the ability to work with others for the greater good of the community. Luthi, Pruznick, Stephens, Kronwall and Wangsvick have not held public office. Tellez has served on the school board.

At the end of a lot of talking and written words, there are some important distinctions between the candidates on issues that matter to the community.

The last thing to say is “thank you” to all of the candidates for putting their names up for public office.

Column originally published by The Fort Collins Coloradoan March 26, 2015

Posted by: David May @ 8:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Why Elections Matter

Two weeks from today is Election Day in Fort Collins. Most Fort Collins voters received their mail-in ballots in the mail yesterday.

All elections are important because 7 elected representatives are setting public policy that impacts the rest of us including business. We’ve already covered elections with you in previous Chamber SmartBrief Weekly e-newsletters.  You can find information here, here, here, here and here.

Why the elections matter is what I want touch on briefly. Let me break the topics down into two broad categories: substantive issues and civility.

Regarding the first, there are big issues coming our way:

  • The City Council has adopted climate action plan goals that are, to be charitable, “aspirational.” They are not achievable but a full-bore attempt to implement them would drive utility rates, real estate and rents through the roof. The new Council will need to figure out a reasonable plan or risk economic damage.
  • The relationship with Colorado State University is important and has been strained over the university’s decision to site its stadium on the main campus. The next Council will need to maintain that relationship while defending the interests of taxpayers relative to mitigating negative impacts of the new facility.
  • Water development decisions are on the horizon. The next Council will make the final decision on whether or not to expand Halligan Reservoir.
  • If the tax measures that are on the ballot pass (Ballot Issue 1 is the extension of a sales tax for public capital projects; Ballot Issue 2 is the extension of a tax for street maintenance), the new Council will oversee their implementation.  If they fail, the Council will be scrambling to rebuild the budget.
  • Housing affordability is a growing issue. If the election goes one way, the Council may be inclined to pare back some fees and restrictions that drive up costs. If it goes the other direction, expect government-mandated ‘solutions.’
  • The economy is relatively strong compared to many places. Challenges do exist, however, relative to replacing good paying jobs lost in the Great Recession. We rank 7th in the nation in under-employment, so resting on our laurels is not a good option.
  • An alternative to a strong private economy is a mandate-centric economy. Ideas like local minimum wages or living wages have been whispered. Depending on the outcome of the election, they would remain whispers or get pushed to the front of the community agenda.
  • Homelessness is a growing concern. The next Council will have to deal with some contentious policy options.

The second category I mentioned is civility. The new City Council will need to work hard to renew the sense of general goodwill that is part of Fort Collins’ natural personality. The long tussle over the on-campus stadium has become personal and unpleasant.

Three weeks from today a new City Council will be sworn in. They have big work in front of them. That’s why elections matter.

Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Ballot Issue # 2 = Good Streets Fort Collins
Since we recycle here at the Chamber, I’m also going to recycle one of my blog posts! In late January I wrote about the wisdom of renewing the ¼ cent tax that is used to maintain Fort Collins streets. You can find it here

The short version is that about 30 years ago Fort Collins residents decided to start taking care of their streets with a dedicated tax. The happy result is that we have good streets AND have saved a ton of money because they have been repaired before they had to be completely rebuilt.

This weekend Fort Collins registered voters will be getting their mail-in ballots in the mail. Ballot Issue No. 2 calls for the renewal of the ¼ cent tax for 10 years. The Chamber is behind this measure and encourage you to support it. You’ll basically be spending 25cents on a $100 purchase. Over 10 years that will add up to around $70M to keep streets in good shape.

Find out more at www.GoodStreetsFortCollins.com.
Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Election offers choice between progress, decline

Fort Collins voters will receive their ballots for the upcoming municipal elections in the mail in 10 days or so. With two tax proposals and the city council races, we will have the clearest choices we’ve had in years between maintaining community momentum and slamming on the brakes.

There are six ballot issues, four of which would make beneficial amendments to the city charter.

Another, Ballot Question 1, would extend for a period of 10 years the 0.25 percent sales and use tax used for community capital improvements. You can find information about the measure and a list of the projects that would be funded at www.fortcollinsstayinggreat.org.

To my knowledge, there is no organized opposition to the measure. The roots for this type of capital improvements plan go back to 1973. Since that time, voters have approved such a plan every decade or so.

My organization, the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, supports Ballot Question 1.

Ballot Question 2 would extend for a period of 10 years the 0.25 percent sales and use tax used for street maintenance. Basically, for 25 cents on a $100 purchase, voters ensure that the public’s biggest capital investment, the streets system, is properly maintained.

Voters have been smart with this program in that keeping streets in good repair costs between six to eight times less than a complete rebuild. Ballot Question 2 is the renewal of an existing tax, one that dates back to the mid-1980s.

Information can be found at www.goodstreetsfortcollins.com. The campaign is being led by Citizens for a Sustainable Economy, a Chamber-initiated nonprofit. The Chamber supports Ballot Question 2.

Four of the seven City Council seats are up for election. Specifically, there are elections for mayor and three city council races including Districts 2 (east-central Fort Collins), 4 (southwest Fort Collins) and 6 (northwest Fort Collins). In the past six elections there has been an average of 10 candidates on the ballot. This year there are nine.

There is a strong contrast between candidates that are problem solvers and the “aginners” — those running against change and progress.

Don’t like population growth? Kill jobs by opposing the expansion or relocation of companies like Woodward. Don’t like traffic congestion? Oppose street projects like Lincoln Avenue anyway. Don’t like the proposed on-campus Colorado State University stadium? Make sure city government puts up as many obstacles as possible. And so it goes.

Missing in all of that are real solutions to community challenges such as creating good-paying jobs.

Fortunately there are some experienced problem-solvers running for election who would offer genuine community leadership. Three of them have a combined 30 years of experience on the City Council and were repeatedly re-elected by voters.

I invite you to visit www.fortcollinschamber.com for the Chamber’s endorsements. You can also read candidate questionnaires and watch videos of their interviews.

This is a move-forward or move-backward election for the community. Passing Ballot Questions 1 and 2 and electing problem-solvers to the city council would move Fort Collins forward.

Column originally published by The Fort Collins Coloradoan March 6, 2015

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Chamber Volunteers are Awesome

Last Wednesday night 575 people gathered at the Hilton for the Chamber’s Annual Dinner. It’s a celebration of the great things going on in the greater Fort Collins area and a chance to honor some people who have made a big contribution to the Chamber’s success. Regarding the latter, we honored:

  • outgoing Chair Chris Otto,
  • retiring Directors Mike Freeman, Hank Gardner, John Carroll, and David Zwisler
  • Young Professional of the Year Angie Penland
  • Volunteer of the Year Pete Gazlay
  • Lifetime Member Ralph Waldo
  • and the prestigious Collins Award went to the Dellenbach family.

Congratulations to one and all! Below are the remarks made about each honoree.

Outgoing Chair Chris Otto, EKS&H  – Remarks by Chamber President David May

“It’s my honor to introduce our 2014 Chairman of the Board, Chris Otto. Chris is an audit partner with the accounting and business solutions firm, EKS&H.

Without stealing Chris’ thunder, let me simply say that under his leadership the Chamber had a very good year. We grew financially and added members and we had a big impact on big issues like securing funding for I-25.

Chris has been great to work with. For those of you who may not know him, he is a very bright and thoughtful guy. Over the past 5 years as Treasurer, on the Executive Committee and as Chairman he has helped guide us forward strategically and financially.

Depending on the year and what is happening in the community, sometimes the Chair needs to elevate his or her public profile. That happened last year. While it’s my job to catch the flack on controversial things, Chris readily stepped into the breach when situations required it.

One of the other great attributes Chris brought as Chair was as a connector who is always looking to find areas of collaboration with other community groups.

Chris is a Kansas Jayhawk, with degrees in Accounting and German. He and wife Julie are the proud parents of Paige and Blake

To Chris’ family and the team at EKS&H, thank you for sharing him with us.

Chris has taught me that cash flow is king and that accountants are cool!

Chris, on behalf of the Board, Staff and our members, it’s my honor to present to you this plaque for your service as Chairman of the Board.”

 

Young Professional of the Year, Angie Penland, First National Bank

Annually the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes a Young Professional of the Year Award.  Established in 2008 to support upcoming leaders in the community and to encourage greater involvement from young business professionals in Northern Colorado, the program continues to see nominations of amazing young professionals in Fort Collins.  Eighteen applicants were considered for the 2014 award. 

The 2014 award recipient was chosen for her career success, her participation in professional development activities and her community involvement as well as her future aspirations within the local community.  The award recipient is being recognized tonight at the Chamber Annual Dinner.

The 2014 Young Professional of the Year Angela Penland!

Angie is the VP of Branch Banking for First National Bank of Omaha.  In that role she leads a team of bankers and tellers at the Oak Branch to ensure the branch is profitable and contributes to company goals.

Angie is a graduate of Leadership Fort Collins and serves as the Board Chair for the Larimer Humane Society Board of Directors.  She is also a volunteer with the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce Moving Fort Collins Forward! campaign and is a strategic project advisor for the Graduate School of Banking.

When asked what she hopes to accomplish for the Fort Collins area throughout her career, Angie says:  "My goal is to continue to help the people and businesses in our community.  There is strength in numbers and the more we can instill each other with a sense of community responsibility, the more manpower we will have to address the issues facing us.”

 

Retiring Board Directors

“The Chamber Board of Directors includes 27 members of our community.  They serve terms ranging from one to three years.  Tonight we recognize and thank four of our Directors that are leaving the board. They have provided great leadership and service to our community.

They are Mike Freeman, Innosphere; Hank Gardner, CSU; John Carroll, Ed Carroll Motor Company and David Zwisler, Ogletree Deakins.  John Carroll  receives special thanks this evening for doing an outstanding job serving on the Chamber Board, the Executive Committee and for serving as our 2013 Chair of the board.

Thank you for investing your time and energy in the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.”

 

Volunteer of the Year – Remarks by Chamber President David May

       “Each year we honor someone who has made a significant volunteer contribution to our organization by naming a Volunteer of the Year. We are fortunate to have so many great people active with the Chamber that it’s always difficult for us to choose between them.

       This year’s Volunteer of the Year represents the incredible gift of time, talent, energy and support that Chamber volunteers share with us. This person was vital to our success in 2014.

       He was raised in Greeley, served on the Fort Collins police force and while his company does business all over Northern Colorado, it is based in Loveland

       Our Volunteer of the Year serves on our Local Legislative Affairs Committee, which he chairs. He represents the Loveland Chamber on the board of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, he serves on the Steering Committee of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance and is a founding member of Citizens for a Sustainable Economy. 

       Our honoree is the owner of the commercial cleaning service, Total Facility Care.

       Our 2014 Volunteer of the Year is …Pete Gazlay!”

 

Lifetime Member – Remarks by Chris Otto and Yvonne Myers

“This first is a brand new award for the Chamber.  It is a lifetime achievement award - given to a member of our organization that has dedicated a lifetime to the success of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.  We are honored to present this first ever Lifetime Membership to Ralph Waldo.

Ralph, a retired Realtor with The Group, has shared his time and talent with the Chamber in many forms including serving on the Board of Directors, on the Local Legislative Affairs Committee, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, Leadership Fort Collins and the list goes on.  Without his years of leadership and energy, we would not be the organization we are today.  Thank you Ralph Waldo for a lifetime of service!”

 

Collins Award – Remarks by Chris Otto and Yvonne Myers

“Our final presentation of the evening is the prestigious Collins Award.  The Collins Award recognizes an individual’s or organization’s long-standing contribution to the community.  The first Collins Award was presented in 1977. Since then, winners have included such luminaries as Larry Kendall, Tom Gleason, Gene Markley, Bohemian Companies, Doug Hutchinson and Rulon Stacey.

We honor our Collins Award winners with an original painting of a scene of one of their facilities. The painting is by local artist Amelia Caruso.

Tonight’s award goes to an individual that has provided significant leadership to our community and our Chamber.

We want to share some of our honoree’s background with you.

For nearly 50 years, “Do the right thing. Exceed expectations. Make a Difference” are the words Dellenbach Motors operates by everyday. Whether selling new or used cars and trucks, or service, parts and body shop repairs.

In 1965 R.W. Dellenbach along with his wife, Patricia and their large family of 11 children moved to Fort Collins to purchase the Chevrolet franchise.  Originally, Poudre Valley Motors was located on North College Ave. As the business began to expand it was clear a larger location was necessary. After a few years, the dealership built a new facility at its current location on South College Ave. in 1971 with the anticipation Fort Collins was growing south.

The new location also brought a new name: Dellenbach Chevrolet. In 1996, the Dellenbach family purchased the Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Subaru franchises, which were located one block south.  Dellenbach Motors now was operating 4 franchises and occupying a majority of one full city block in Midtown Fort Collins.

The most prestigious honor a new car deal can receive is the “Time Dealer of the Year” award. In 1986 R.W. Dellenbach received the honor because of his commitment to both customers and employees.

While growing up, most of R.W. and Patricia’s 11 children worked at the dealership in some capacity in every department. In 2008 R.W. passed away and to this day, seven of the Dellenbach children and ten grandchildren have continued their careers within the dealership. It truly is a family-owned and operated business that has the same values and ethics that was started so many years ago. Alongside the family, there are over 120 fulltime employees.

It was not a coincidence that R.W. and Patricia moved to Fort Collins all those years ago.  They realized it was a close-knit community with good schools and the perfect place to raise their family.

The Dellenbach family has a history of giving back to the Fort Collins community in numerous ways. For more than 25 years Dellenbach Motors has partnered with the United Way of Larimer County by donating a car, to help with the fundraising effort by raising awareness of the needs in our community. There is a long list of organizations, including Pathways Hospice, the new Cancer Center, and Discovery Museum to name a few that have the support of the Dellenbach family.

We honor our Collins Award winners with an original painting of a scene one of their facilities. The painting is by local artist Amelia Caruso.

Please congratulate our 2014 Collins Award Winner, the Dellenbach Family”

 

Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
City Council Should Have People of Great Character

In the fall I wrote about the upcoming City Council elections and how important they are, and previously I’ve mentioned some of the characteristics important to have in elected officials. With Election Day being six weeks from today, I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you about some of the criteria we consider when endorsing candidates.

Criteria for Supporting City Council Candidates

Serving on the City Council is a serious responsibility with serious consequences for the overall community, but especially the business community. Consequently, business leaders will be rigorous in their consideration of candidates and very direct in communicating what will be necessary to earn the trust and support of the business community.

Not Acceptable

Candidates that are narrowly focused and have an anti-business perspective will not be supported. Nor will candidates who are dishonest or deceptive about their beliefs. In that regard, experience shows that candidates who are unwilling to honestly convey their views about issues important to business and the local economy, if elected, pursue policies opposed to business and are not accessible and open to input. We absolutely will not support ideologically-driven people who are deceitful in their communications and who work against the interests of the broader business community.

Values that Matter to Business

We do not have a checklist of specific policy positions that candidates must agree to before receiving our support, but we have a strong set of values that are important to us against which candidates will be measured.

In general terms, to earn our support, candidates must:

  • support the creation of primary jobs,
  • support economic development marketing and the expansion of existing primary employers,
  • support reducing the length of the development approval process,
  • support water development and storage,
  • support community and regional mobility, especially as relates to street and highway capacity,
  • support maintaining strong public utilities while keeping utility rates reasonably low,
  • oppose mandates on employers relative to their relationships with their own employees.

Relative to personal characteristics and experience that matter to business, candidates must...

...be honest. As noted above, candidates who run under false pretenses or that are not candid and forthcoming about their agenda and views will not be supported. Honesty is foundational to public service and to earning our support.

...be open-minded and willing to hear various perspectives. A councilperson is a representative of all of the people, not the champion of special interests or narrow philosophies. They are on Council to make the best possible long-term decisions for the community. Said in the negative, we do not support agenda-driven ideologues. Doing the job right requires intellectual curiosity, being data-driven, and being open to hearing all perspectives.

...be able to work well with professional city staff while not automatically deferring to their judgment. Both roles are important, but they are different. Council Members bring independent perspective that is rooted in the representing the overall perspective of the citizenry. Independently examining and questioning the staff input in a mutually respectful manner is a key role of Council Members.

...reflect well on the community. The give and take of public decision making can be messy. Even so, we expect a high level of dignity and respectfulness of people who represent us.

...be committed to the community and to the job. Doing the job right requires a dedication of energy, time and focus.

...be public-service motivated. The primary motivation should be to serve the broader public interests. Serving on Council is not about pushing personal agendas or ego-gratification.

...have relevant experience. Good intentions are great. Better, however, are good intentions backed by relevant experience and knowledge. We are interested in people with experience in their work and civic life that lends itself to serving on the city council

...care enough to work hard to win election. To earn our support, candidates must demonstrate that they have 'fire in the belly' and will work extremely hard to win election.

Posted by: David May @ 11:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Community complacency is a momentum killer

Community complacency.

That’s the answer I recently gave to someone asking what I worry about.

Not one hour after that exchange, I got a call from a Denver Post reporter regarding Fort Collins’ sixth-place place ranking by NerdWallet as an innovative tech hub. Using their methodology, on a per capita basis, Fort Collins is a better techie hub than Austin, Texas, and Boston.

This is the latest in a long string of aren’t-we-great stories that goes back for years. While every city, town and village in America touts its great quality of life, it’s actually true for us. We have made our good fortune by years of hard work and good leadership.

But as fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus once said, “Human prosperity does not abide long in one place.”

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the seeds of decline are sown in the fruits of success. When you reach the pinnacle, it’s natural to rest and assume the journey is done. A sense of complacency can set in that will keep you from doing what’s needed for ongoing success.

Some of that complacency is evident with a few Fort Collins City Council members who believe city government has done enough already to support job creation. They want to weaken economic development programs and regulate and fee the dickens out of businesses, big and small.

Yet, per capita income continues to drift downward, and we are seventh in the nation in underemployment. We might be doing relatively well according to some rankings, but do you feel it in your family budget and job security? Are your neighbors and children all gainfully employed to the fullest of their abilities?

This is relevant and timely with the April 7 city council elections looming. Every election cycle all candidates declare their support for a healthy local economy. Once elected, however, many set about adopting policies and regulations that are just the opposite.

Pay special attention over the next seven weeks to what candidates are saying. Listen with a critical ear. Here are some questions to keep in mind as you read campaign literature and listen to candidates:

  • Does the candidate understand what primary companies are — small and large companies that export at least 50 percent of their services or goods outside the market and import money? Does this candidate support policies to attract and keep such companies in Fort Collins? Does s/he really understand why that is important?
  • If so, what is this candidate’s specific plan for economic development?
  • Will this candidate support policies to maintain our publicly owned utilities and keep rates reasonable?
  • Is this candidate trustworthy? Is he or she forthcoming about beliefs or being evasive and deceptive?
  • Will this person support maintaining and improving the street infrastructure?

Fort Collins is at a time of reckoning as we decide to continue forward or slam on the brakes. Complacency means going backwards, and it takes a long time to recover when that happens. This great community deserves better.

Column originally published by The Fort Collins Coloradoan February 12, 2015

Posted by: David May @ 10:00:00 am  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Innovation in Fort Collins, Stand Aside Austin and Boston

You may have seen the story today about Fort Collins ranking 6th in the nation as an innovative tech hub. That’s according to a report released by NerdWallet, which you can find here. Their methodology considers number of patents per 1,000 residents, venture capital funding per capita and economies of locational nearness.

As I said in this story in the Denver post about the ranking, for the uninformed we’re a bit of a ‘Silicon secret.’ But as you know, we have a lot resources focused on innovation, which I heard a speaker last week at Disney Institute define as a process that begins with creativity and ends in the marketplace.

Let’s start with the private sector. Companies like Advanced Energy, HP, Otter Products, Woodward and others are regularly applying for and receiving patents on their inventions. Then there’s Colorado State University. The university has made a conscious effort over the past 8 or 9 years to commercialize its research.

Several organizations deserve credit for advancing innovation in Fort Collins including the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, CSU Ventures, CSU Research Innovation Center and the CSU Engines & Energy Conversion Lab.

In terms of size of their tech sectors, most of the other places on the list dwarf us. But, pound for pound, we do quite well.

Posted by: David May @ 3:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Realities of Transportation Funding
By the end of 2017, unless something changes, the State Colorado won't have enough money to do anything except maintenance on the state highways and the interstate system.

And at this point, Colorado residents don't support increasing the sales tax state wide for transportation nor do they support increasing the gas tax. That's according to polling done last year across the state.

I don't bring all of this up to be negative. Rather, it's to make the point that we need to begin considering local options. That was a major topic of conversation recently between a small group of Northern Colorado business leaders and outgoing CDOT Director Don Hunt. Hunt was making the point that funding for state transportation projects will be in short supply. Both the federal government and the state of Colorado are not likely to fund capacity improvement projects like the widening of I-25.

One option discussed by the group was the creation of a group of regional transportation authority's along the Front Range. RTA's are a tool created under state law that allow residents in local areas to tax themselves for transportation projects. That may be a viable option for Northern Colorado. The general consensus among business people in the room is that unless something is done sooner rather than later, congestion on north I-25 will adversely impact the area economy and quality-of-life. They prefer to be proactive rather than leave our fate in the hands of the state and federal government.

Among other ideas, RTA's will be part of the conversation this summer by the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance.
Posted by: David May @ 2:00:00 pm  Comments (0)Read More»»
Monday, January 26, 2015
May: Its common sense to maintain streets

You wouldn’t buy a new $1,500 bike and leave it lying in your yard at the mercy of the elements. Nor would you expect to drive your car for 200,000 miles without maintaining and repairing it. This kind of behavior would be irresponsible, wasteful and — frankly —dumb.

Fort Collins residents have long applied that kind of common sense to their streets. Over 150 years, the community has grown and its street system has expanded accordingly. Now at 575 centerline miles of arterial, collector and residential streets, it’s by far the community’s largest public investment. To their credit, residents expect this investment to be properly maintained and have been willing to pay for it.

From years of experience, people around the country responsible for maintaining roads and streets learned that it was much more cost-effective to repair streets before they deteriorate too far. The city of Fort Collins Transportation Department developed a pavement condition index to guide their repair schedule. It determined that keeping streets at Level of Service B — in good condition — costs 6 to 8 times less than a complete rebuild.

To that end, the city spends approximately $15 million annually to repair nearly 70 centerline miles of streets. The money comes from several sources, with the two biggest being a quarter-cent street maintenance sales and use tax and revenue from the 2010 Keep Fort Collins Great sales and use tax. This willingness of voters to tax themselves to maintain streets goes back to the mid-1980s when they approved a quarter-cent tax under a capital program called Project RECAP.

The latest iteration was the Street Maintenance quarter-cent tax passed in 2006. It is due to expire on Dec. 31 unless renewed by voters.

The decision was made by the City Council last Tuesday to put renewal of the tax on the April ballot.

In the course of the conversation, there was an attempt to lower the voter-approved tax and replace it with a City Council-imposed transportation fee. From a government-centric perspective, having a fee sounds great because it means not having to ask voters to approve a tax.

Plus it’s more flexible. Where revenue from a voter-approved street maintenance tax would have to be used for repairing streets, a transportation fee could be used for all kinds of things based on the animating philosophy of a majority of council members. And based on the current nature of politics in Fort Collins, a council-adopted fee would likely be politicized to favor some groups while punishing others. Fortunately, a majority of the council did not go along with the voter bypass scheme.

Another reason a tax is better than a fee is because it’s also paid by visitors and tourists who use our streets. A fee, on the other hand, would shift the burden completely to Fort Collins homeowners and businesses.

Good for the council for letting voters decide and good for citizens for having the common sense to take care of their street system investment.

David May is president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at davidmay@fcchamber.org.

Column originally published by The Fort Collins Coloradoan January 22, 2015

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Work to Fund I-25 Continues
On several occasions I’ve reported on the effort to secure funding to widen I-25. It’s not fancy, but go here for a blow by blow report on lobbying activities. It’s a report I submit routinely to the others working on the Fix North I-25 initiative.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015
The Wall Builders

Last week I commented on the kerfuffle between a City Council Member and Woodward. The Coloradoan editorialized about the issue in this past Sunday’s paper and today’s issue has a soapbox and letter to the editor from residents taking the Council Member to task.

This week I want to continue on this topic but broaden it out. While the focus has been on how one elected official has been acting towards one company, this problem is bigger than both of them.

Fort Collins by almost any measure is a wonderful place. I don’t want to go all chamber of commerce on you, so I’ll leave it at that and spare you the details! (However, if you want to peruse some of the community’s rankings, you can find them here!)

That said, when the Council Member let his mask slip he did us all a favor by openly revealing to the public at-large his raw political ambitions and guiding philosophy. While this doesn’t fully capture it, a short description is that he and his fellow travelers are anti-business, anti-economy, anti-population growth and pro-accumulation of as much power as they can acquire.

Most residents are so focused on making a living and raising their families these political machinations never hit their radar screens. That is until there’s an overreach like when the City Council tried to take over the trash haulers a few years ago, when they tried to impose a fee on plastic bags and now when one of them is openly bullying a longstanding, beloved and important local employer.      

Many businesses, on the other hand, have a different vantage point, especially those trying to build or expand. Sadly, the treatment directed towards Woodward is not all that unusual. The difference this time is that the company pushed back.

You might wonder “Why would an elected city official want to discourage local companies from growing and creating jobs?” The answer he (and his allies) gives is that he opposes ‘corporate welfare’ and he believes ‘growth should pay its own way.’

My theory is that it’s part of the larger wall building process to keep people out of Fort Collins. Never mind that most of the wall-builders moved here from other places! Here are six ways he / they go about building walls.

First, encircle the community with open lands and community separators. This has been popular with the public. It maintains the open character of a western community and provides close-in recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat. It isn’t free, however, and it does dramatically impact the cost of housing.

Second, create a firm growth management boundary (wall). As a community, it’s a declaration that we are going to forever remain a mid-sized city. Twelve, thirteen years ago several council members and community activists declared that I-25 was a firm line that we would not cross. How has it worked out for us have Costco and Walmart in Timnath instead of land that should have been annexed into Fort Collins? Sometimes the wall builders trip up.

Third, build a wall of fees. Did you know that Fort Collins has the second highest fees on commercial development in the state? An example of how we have to work around that is the so-called $23M incentive package given to Woodward to expand in Fort Collins. No, no, no! City taxpayers are not giving money to Woodward. Most of that money is the waiver of fees that should have never been charged in the first place. Sticking with my wall analogy, the city government built a wall then had to take down several rows of bricks to allow a company that had been here for 3 generations to be able to stay. In essence, the Woodward package is a sort of rebate on an excessive overcharge.

Fourth, build a wall of regulations. Every study and plan adopted by the city government over the last 25 years has been used by the Council Member and his allies to add layer upon layer of new requirements and restrictions on construction, development and business. 

Fifth, related to the item above is the development review process. It routinely takes 18 months for projects to get through the maze of city government. A key strategy is to make the process slow and expensive.

Finally, the sixth wall is the no-jobs wall. This is the one being used by the Council Member relative to Woodward. The thinking is something like this: If only those rascally companies wouldn’t expand and create jobs, we could keep people from moving here. While he / his allies can get away with some of the other more hidden wall building strategies, this one is a political minefield. The public won’t put up with someone openly playing politics with their jobs and the health of the local economy.

None of above is meant to be negative. On the contrary, I’m quite bullish on future of Fort Collins. It’s just that the Council Member’s ham-handed treatment of the community’s leading company was a teachable moment. It’s a chance to put in context a story of the day with the underlying political agenda that’s afoot. 

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015
May: Stop petty harassment of Woodward

Are you feeling fully secure about your household income? For those of you working, do you feel secure about your job?

Are you working at a job that matches your education and skill level? Do you make the income you think you deserve?

As investment advisers like to say, results may vary, but for the majority of people in Fort Collins the answers to these questions are no, no, no and no.

Do you believe city government should encourage companies to leave town or cut back on their workforces? Do you think city officials should act in a manner that discourages companies from opening or expanding in Fort Collins?

In your opinion, is it in the best interests of the community for city government officials to harass and provoke the city's key employers?

The answers for most of us would be no, no and no. Of course not.

Do you believe the community should honor and celebrate its founders? Do you think city government should eventually fix a street that it has targeted for improvements for 25 years? Most of us would probably answer yes and yes.

I'm asking these questions to put in perspective the odd harassment campaign of a City Council member and his political handler against a Fort Collins company, Woodward.

The council member — who I won't name for this publicity-grabbing move — regularly rails against supporting companies including Woodward, opposes naming the 30 acres that Woodward donated to the citizens of Fort Collins after the pioneer family that first settled the land, and opposes making improvements to the street north of the Woodward property.

Regarding Lincoln Avenue, improvements — including adding sidewalks — have been on the city's streets master plan since 1989. That's 24 years before Woodward decided to locate nearby.

He finally provoked the company into sending a letter calling him out for his behavior. In my 35-year chamber career, this is the first time I've seen a company harassed to this level and feel compelled to push back.

This kind of treatment sends the wrong message to existing primary employers and others interested in locating to the area. Maybe that's the councilman's goal.

If that's the case, it runs against the grain of public opinion. An improving economy notwithstanding, most Fort Collins citizens believe city government should encourage and support the creation of good-paying jobs.

When asked about economic development strategies, 92 percent of Fort Collins residents support community leaders working to retain existing employers and 67 percent support waiving some taxes and development fees for Fort Collins companies trying to expand.

When residents were asked, "Would you say that retaining Woodward … a company headquartered here in Fort Collins, should be a top priority for the City of Fort Collins," 85 percent said is should be a priority. Fifty-four percent gave it top priority.

Final question: Is playing politics with the residents' jobs and the economic health of the community ever a good idea?

David May is president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce. Reach him at davidmay@fcchamber.org.

This column was originally published with The Fort Collins Coloradoan January 2, 2015.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014
2014 Chamber Accomplishments

As we put a wrap on another great year, thank you for your support as members. We’ll put together a more complete annual report to you after the first of the year, but here are a few top of the mind things that the Chamber did in 2014: 

  • Co-founded and led a new group called the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance. So far the Alliance has helped secure $35M for funding to help widen I-25
  • Local economy is growing rapidly
  • Hosted world-renowned author Jim Collins (Built to Last: Good to Great; Great by Choice) on April 16 for 1,050 people at the Lincoln Center
  • Grew membership by net +63
  • Led the successful campaign to renew the county jail tax that is critical for public safety
  • Had the most successful fund raising campaign in Chamber’s history. Our volunteers raised $601,000 in 10 weeks
  • Supported activities to commemorate Fort Collins’ 150thAnniversary including supporting publication of community book
  • Another clean audit
  • Re-grew post-Great Recession revenues to highest in Chamber’s history

Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014
The Seasonal Buzz

Christmas is two days away and the seasonal buzz is at a fevered pitch. Just yesterday I had breakfast in downtown Fort Collins with a friend at the Silver Grill. When we left at 9:00 customers were lined up waiting for a table. Over the noon hour I was back in Old Town and parking places were hard to find. On Saturday the College and Harmony corridors had lots of traffic and the stores my wife and I went into were busy.

Of course, busy-ness doesn’t automatically translate into good business, but it all looked promising. There was a general sense of prosperity and contentment.

The slow economic recovery from the deepest recession since the Great Depression is picking up steam. If there is a silver lining to hard economic times it is a sharper appreciation when things are going well. The spring is more glorious after a long and bitterly cold winter, right?

Hopefully that is the case for you, your business and your family, that things are looking up. At the Chamber we appreciate you being part of our community and our business community.

Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 15, 2014
Dear Santa

By my recollection, this is letter #54 that I've sent over the years!

In all that time we’ve only met once. Do you remember? You were stacking gifts against the back door since our house didn’t have a chimney. After having to climb down from the roof, your low-grade cursing – you called it ‘murmuring’ – woke me up. When you asked to use the bathroom I escorted you to our outhouse whereupon your ‘murmuring’ increased! There’s nothing quite like plopping your rosy bottom down on a frosty outhouse seat, right? A little taste of the North Pole right there in wintry Iowa!

Listen, I know you’re crazy busy so enough about our good old days together. Here’s my wish list for this year.

  • First, peace on Earth. I was going to ask for peace and friendship between the CSU stadium friends and foes, but I thought I’d start small and work my way up from there! Maybe next year.
  • Add a third lane to I-25 each way between Highway 14 in Fort Collins and Highway 66 in Longmont. CDOT says it will take until 2070, but you can get it done faster than that with one sleigh-full of cement per year.
  • A great City Council in April. Without one, community progress stalls.
  • Coal in the stockings of the community curmudgeons who wrongly claim that businesses don’t pay their own way. Making matters worse these folks then try use local government to extract money from companies for their various agendas. It’s kind of mob-esque.
  • A job for everybody that wants one, and let’s create even better ones to a match the education and skills of our population. After all, we rank 7th in the nation in under-employment.
  • Fix Lincoln Avenue between downtown and Lemay. It has been in the City’s plans to do this since the late 1990s. Now with the success of the local breweries and companies like In-Situ and Woodward along that corridor, it makes it even more important.
  • A great water plan for Colorado. The state lets too much of the water to which it is entitled flow out of Colorado.
  • A Las Vegas Bowl victory for the underdog CSU Rams football team over the PAC 12 Utah Utes.
  • Cram a new athletic director, new head football coach and an invitation to join the Big 12 Conference under CSU President Tony Frank’s tree.
  • Two 6 foot 5 All-American hitters for CSU Women’s Volleyball Coach Tom Hilbert.
  • Lots of profits to area companies. When profitable, they’re hiring people, paying more taxes, providing more goods and services and supporting more community non-profits.
  • Peace and safety for the peacekeepers and their loved ones. The men and women in our armed forces are there by choice, but it comes with its own share of risks and hardships.
  • Happiness and success for all of our fair citizens.

That’s it, Santa! Travel safe, and here’s wishing you indoor plumbing along the way!

Your friend,

David

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Fighting Against Voodoo Economics

Last Saturday the Fort Collins City Council had a planning retreat. One of the items on the Council’s agenda was discussion about an update to the City’s economic strategy. Let me go to the bottom line first: based on that discussion, it is and will continue to be the official policy of the City of Fort Collins to support a strong local economy through the retention and attraction of primary employers.

Behind that good news, however, is a more nuanced conversation. There are actually a couple of Council Members who don’t want the city government to encourage private sector job creation, especially primary jobs. 

Their colleagues on the Council were having none of it. Starting with Mayor Weitkunat, Council Members Gino Campana and Wade Troxell and Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak schooled them on the importance of primary employers.

They reminded all of us how important primary employers are to the local economy. The jobs (and the big payrolls) they create allow the retail and service sectors to thrive. Fostering and protecting community income streams – the flow of outside money into Fort Collins – should be the key objective of the City’s economic health strategy. Buzz phrases like ‘steady state economies’ were thrown around as an alternative to focusing on primary employers, but most of the Council understands that it’s a form of voodoo economics with no grounding in the real world. 

The short definition is that primary employers are companies that sell most of their product or service outside the local market and bring income into the area. Jobs at these firms on average pay significantly better than those at retail or service companies. And, remember that these companies don’t just hire engineers; they also need truck drivers, receptionists, shipping clerks, janitors, etc.

One positive from this discussion was a reminder that we can’t take for granted that people understand the importance of primary employers. That’s one reason the Chamber created FortCollinsWorks.com. If you’re interested in the topic of economic prosperity and primary employers, I’d suggest you visit the site and look at: 

  • Page 4 of the document titled “2012 Primary Employment Update.” The report was prepared by Dr. Martin Shields. On Page 4 you’ll find a definition of primary employers and why they are important.
  • “Why Focus on Primary Jobs.” This short document explains the economic value of primary or base jobs.

In closing, hats off to the Mayor and Council Members for keeping the City focused on supporting a strong local economy.

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