By Michael McLaughlin
Gov. John Hickenlooper brought his casual style of public speaking to Wednesday's Aspen Business Luncheon at Harris Hall on the Aspen Meadows campus.
His main topic was employment in Colorado, one of the stronger aspects of his political career. About 100 people attended the talk.
"I want to talk about jobs," he said. "It's such a crucial issue. Jobs have become the top issue in every region of the world."
Hickenlooper pointed out that since he took office as governor in 2011, Colorado has endured floods, fires, shootings, droughts and landslides. There also have been 13 federally declared disasters, the most of any state in U.S. history during a four-year period.
"Throughout all those challenges, if you go back to 2010, Colorado was 40th in job creation," he said. "Last year, we were fourth. This year we might be third. There's resilience in Colorado that's unique.
"Despite all the effort of trying to take care of our neighbors, help rebuild our roads and communities, trying to figure out how to pay for all that and trying to make sure we have money in our reserves for whatever comes next, our business community has been able to maintain their focus. They've been finding new markets, expand the existing ones and hire new people. Most importantly, we've had 31 straight months of job growth. We're also one of the top states in the country for startups. We're doing things in a positive way."
Hickenlooper said that when he first became governor, he set out to develop a statewide economic plan called "Colorado Blueprint" and visited all 64 counties in Colorado. He asked what each county wanted its economy to look like and heard roughly the same six goals throughout the state.
The counties want their state government to be more pro-business; they want the government not only to attract new businesses, but also to retain and expand the businesses in place; they want access to capital; they want better training for their workforce; they want to see the state do a better job celebrating innovative technology; and they want to see better marketing of the state not just as a tourist destination but also for entrepreneurs.
Hickenlooper said that anyone can access the state website and look up Colorado Blueprint to see the progress being made in each county.
Assuming that he doesn't lose re-election, Hickenlooper said focus for the next four years will be making Colorado No. 1 in new job creation and work on four areas he sees as challenging for the local job market.
The governor listed lowering long-term unemployment, helping veterans and young people find employment, finding more jobs for people with disabilities and being more receptive to young entrepreneurs as goals.
"We want to attract people that not only want to build a business," he said. "We want to attract people that want to build a better life. We want people to see Colorado as job-centric."
Hickenlooper saved time at the end of his talk for questions from the audience. Concerning his upcoming political race against gubernatorial Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, Hickenlooper was asked what the governor's political strengths and weaknesses were.
In response, Hickenlooper was candid about his political style.
"I think my strengths and weaknesses are kind of the same," he said. "I don't look at this race politically, and trust me, I'm not spending a lot of time studying what Beauprez stands for. I don't really plan out what I'm going to say; I just try and say the truth and shoot from the hip as much as I can. In the modern world of politics, that's not always wise."
Hickenlooper said getting more people with a business background into politics is important, as is hiring talented, honest people.
"I think it's important to attract more businesspeople into government," he said. "Of the 50 governors, only five had prior experience managing an enterprise with more than 20 people. Someone like me, who's been in small business, isn't afraid to admit making a mistake and learning from it. I believe one of my strengths has been getting talented people to work for me. I think I've hired as many Republicans and independents as I have Democrats. I try to hire talent. I look for people that get the job done, can admit when they make mistakes and explain how they'll fix it."