Steamboat Springs Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper didn’t look like a man on the campaign trail — and his campaign is months away from hitting full stride. Even so, Hickenlooper presented several economic plans that he said he would like to use across the state at an informal meeting and discussion Tuesday afternoon with eight Steamboat Springs business owners and entrepreneurs.
During an hourlong meeting at Storm Peak Innovations, Hickenlooper, a Democrat, talked with Storm Peak Innovations Executive Director Jens Owen, Access Anything owners Andrea and Craig Kennedy, Moose Mountain Trading Co. owner Jenny Wall, Zirkel Trading owner Steve Hitchcock, Steamboat Restaurant Group owner Rex Brice, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Executive Director Tracy Barnett and Routt County Economic Development Cooperative Director Scott Ford.
Hickenlooper used a phrase he has used several times to explain how he envisions revitalizing Colorado’s economy: “We’re really making a bigger pie, instead of fighting over a piece of the old one.”
He said that in order to create a larger pie and boost Colorado’s incomes, taxes need to be raised — something he said almost nobody wants to do — or businesses need to be supported to boost the economy.
Hickenlooper’s idea is for residents in each of Colorado’s 64 counties to create economic plans that are appropriate for their region. Those ideas would be combined into regional plans and an overall state plan.
He said he would ask local groups to spend eight to 12 months creating the plan to “imagine what we want our economy to look like.” Hickenlooper said the local plans are important because Colorado’s regions are disparate, and what works in one area might not be applicable to a ski resort such as Steamboat.
He said he has used public input plans like this to create a justice center in Denver, and he wishes he would have used it more often.
“If I had to do it over again, I would use a big public process,” he said, even to create the menu at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., a Denver-area microbrewery he helped start.
Business to business
Hickenlooper several times referred to his entrepreneurial experience, commiserating about hard times and applauding several initiatives his guests explained, including Wall’s description of how she has increased her sales by expanding the website.
He said he would like to see more Colorado branding on items, similar to Vermont’s method of promoting local products.
He said he also would like to advertise that Colorado is a good place to start a business — he said it is ranked the fourth or fifth best state to start a business by different surveys.
“They hear ‘Colorado,’ they think ski resort, but they should be thinking small business,” he said.
He said he would like to decrease instability in the state that comes from constitutional amendments popping up on ballots so frequently.
Race to ramp up
In the general election in November, Hickenlooper could face the winner of the GOP primary — Dan Maes or Scott McInnis — and Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo.
Although almost all of the discussion Tuesday focused on businesses and steered clear of politics, at the end of the meeting, Hickenlooper said he’s expecting a rough fight.
He said he expects Tancredo to drop out of the race, solidifying the political right around one candidate.
He also said he expects the race to become bitter and urged his guests to contact the media to reject any mud slinging in the election.
Hickenlooper’s stop was part of a tour that went through Grand Junction, Meeker and Craig before the stop in Steamboat.
He planned to stay in Steamboat overnight, with a planned fundraiser, before continuing to the southeastern part of the state.