Broncos back him up
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Gov. John Hickenlooper took a sip on the wild side of Carbondale last Sunday, when he stepped off his huge campaign bus and into the tight confines of the Carbondale Beer Works brewpub.
Really, though, he was in his element — a Broncos game on the television, microbrew beer on tap only a step away, and a crowd of Democrat-friendly locals on hand to ask him questions and to wish him well.
“I love having the Broncos playing today,” the governor told the crowd after being introduced by Carbondale Trustee Allyn Harvey. “I’m guaranteed to have your attention.”
Hickenlooper, a craft-beer entrepreneur himself (he founded Wyncoop Brewery in 1988), is currently locked in a tight race for reelection against Republican challenger Bob Beauprez.
On Sunday, he stopped first in Glenwood Springs, at the Glenwood Canyon Brewing Co., then proceeded to the Beer Works for a nearly two-hour visit before heading on to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new high-tech business near Aspen — Amatis Controls at the Aspen Business Center.
Standing in front of a big-screen TV as the Broncos thrashed the New York Jets, the governor recited a litany of economic development and growth statistics that Colorado has seen during his tenure, in spite of more than a dozen natural-disaster declarations that have included massive wildfires and horrendous floods,
Turning to the social side of the political equation, Hickenlooper declared, “We’ve reduced teenage pregnancy by over 40 percent” while he has occupied the governor’s mansion in Denver, which he said is the best record of any state in the U.S.
And while Colorado is “the number one innovative state for education,” he continued, he also admitted that employment remains unacceptably low.
In a private discussion with The Sopris Sun, Hickenlooper explained that his prescription for getting the state’s economy going is to encourage small businesses to move here or start here.
“I am on the side of smaller (businesses),” he said. “I think small is long-term, more resilient, more diversified in terms of going through recessions.” He observed that encouraging small businesses to locate in communities around the state would be preferable to trying to lure “Fortune 500 headquarters” to move here.
Recalling his “Bottom-Up” business initiative in 2010, Hickenlooper said the goal then, and now, has been “to make the state more pro-business, but with the highest standards” in broad environmental and economic terms.
“Young people are driving the economy,” he emphasized, adding that it is the job of the state and local governments to focus on “what kind of things young entrepreneurs look for” in potential relocation communities — good schools, varied recreational opportunities and a good work force.
Plus, he said, “You’ve got to, kind of, reach out and involve young people in how your community is managed. Do young people feel welcomed to be part of the leadership of the community? I think that vitality is what attracts (young entrepreneurs), if you have more bike paths, more live music, more coffee houses, more things that are appealing to young people.”
Questioned about ways to keep the state’s agricultural industry vibrant in the face of mounting pressures to sell out to developers, Hickenlooper noted that it is still a $40 billion industry annually.
When asked about ongoing efforts to capitalize on the legalization of industrial hemp, which once was a big cash crop in Colorado, Hickenlooper said, “We’ve supported hemp from the beginning (the 2012 legalization vote on Amendment 64). But I think people get overexcited about it.”
He said hemp has been legal in Canada for some time, but remains a relatively small portion, about $12 million a year, of the broader Canadian economy.
“And that’s a drop in a bathtub” when compared to Colorado’s existing, more traditional agricultural economy, he said.
“The trouble with hemp is, it’s competing with cotton (referring to hemp’s use in making clothes and other fiber products, mainly). And, sure, it does some things that cotton doesn’t do, but it’s much more expensive … to grow, harvest and process into usable forms than with cotton.”
Granting that hemp is “more durable, stronger” than cotton, the governor continued, “You need to find those uses where you get the maximum benefit from hemp. So far, there don’t seem to be as many as we’d like.”
Moving through the crowd at Beer Works, Hickenlooper was buttonholed repeatedly by locals with concerns and questions.
Long-time local Jim Breasted of Carbondale peppered the governor, and Colorado Department of Transportation Director Don Hunt, with questions about the impending replacement of the Grand Avenue Bridge in Glenwood Springs, which Breasted opposes.
“Putting Highway 82 through downtown Glenwood Springs was a historical mistake,” Breasted declared, “and you’re compounding that by building a new bridge.”
Instead, he said, the bridge should be upgraded as it is, and the state should put its weight and its highway budget behind the idea of creating a true bypass around Glenwood Springs that would relieve traffic congestion through the heart of the downtown.
Hunt, however, stressed that the state’s primary role is to fix the bridge, which he said is “functionally obsolete” and “unsafe.”
After that, said both Hunt and Hickenlooper, the state will be ready to start thinking about a bypass.
The governor was quizzed about the state’s role in promoting solar and other alternative energy technology, by CMC solar instructor Chris Ellis.
“How do we start moving our state toward long-term energy literacy?” Ellis asked. “We need to get young kids involved in this, to teach them STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts.”
The governor said the state already is deeply involved in this area, citing the work done by the Governor’s Energy Office.
But, he conceded, “we are not providing the resources for that (ramped up student involvement) especially at the elementary school level.”
He added, “One of the keys is going to be social media,” using high-tech communications to reach and interest students, and he expressed the hope that the state’s business community will step forward with expertise and other resources to help accomplish this and other tasks.
The governor appeared to be well-received by the crowd, observed Carbondale Trustee Harvey, who noted that the day was perfect for the visit
“Carbondale likes football, and beer, and it was raining this morning, so why not come here?” Harvey asked rhetorically.
“I came to see the governor, and not the game,” said Brigitta Hilberman of Redstone. “The game I can see at home if I want to.”
A confirmed Hickenlooper supporter, she added, “I’m very happy to be here. He’s supporting important causes in Colorado, and I wish him the best. I hope he wins.”