Governor: Despite fires and floods, state of the state strong

Governor John Hickenlooper
Governor John Hickenlooper

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Colorado not only has survived wildfires and floods, but also has thrived in an economic recovery that has brought new jobs and companies to the state, Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a State of the State Address that acknowledged tragedies and touted accomplishments.

“Despite every unforeseen test, despite everything that was thrown at us, the state of our state is strong,” Hickenlooper said.

While the effects of the recession still are felt in Colorado, Hickenlooper said the unemployment rate has dropped more than 30 percent in Mesa County. Moreover, Grand Junction is among five Colorado cities that rank among the top 20 metropolitan areas nationally for tech startups, he said.

A $350,000 grant from a rural development program will help to double the staff at the Delta office of a company that supplies miners for work around the world, Hickenlooper said.

State Rep. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who asked for an emergency meeting with Hickenlooper to explore ways to bolster the Western Slope economy, said the governor’s assessment of conditions in the region was too optimistic. “I think the governor needs to come out to Western Colorado a bit more and see what is actually going on with the economy.”

In his fourth State of the State Address to the Colorado Legislature that day after the opening of the 2014 session, Hickenlooper noted the wildfires that scorched the state last summer and the floods that inundated the state again in the fall. He also noted the shooting deaths of the executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and a student at Arapahoe High School.

“Despite all of it, we did not let that define us. That is not our story,” Hickenlooper said.

Instead, the governor touted economic growth that’s brought jobs and businesses to Colorado as a defining attribute.

The unemployment rate in Colorado has dropped from 9 percent in 2010 to 6.5 percent in November 2013, he said. The jobless rate has dropped more than 30 percent in Mesa County, he added, from more than 11 percent in 2011 to 6.9 percent in November 2013.

Since January 2010, Colorado payrolls have grown 170,000, the governor said.

“In 2010, when it came to job growth, this state was ranked 40th in the nation. Now — three years later, in that same ranking, Colorado is the fourth-fastest job growth state in the country,” he said.

Colorado ranks among the top five states for business, career and job growth, he said. And five cities in the state, including Grand Junction, rank among the top 20 metro areas in the United States with the highest ratios of tech startups compared to the national average.

In a veiled reference to news a firearms accessory manufacturer is leaving the state following the enactment of gun control legislation last year, Hickenlooper said, “While we are disappointed whenever a company leaves this state, Colorado is gaining employers and jobs.”

He said three Fortune 500 companies have decided to call Colorado home in addition to 26 other firms. One of the most recent companies to establish headquarters in Colorado is Ardent Mills, a joint venture of ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling.

Efforts continue to further bolster economic development in Colorado, including rural areas of the state, he said. The state is in the process of awarding

$3 million to rural communities through the Rural Economic Development Grant Program, he said.

Recipients include TK Mining in Delta County. A $350,000 grant will enable the company to add five to 10 employees in doubling the staff at its Delta office, Hickenlooper said.

While acknowledging the oil and natural gas industry contributes $29 billion annually to the Colorado economy, Hickenlooper also touted a regulatory regime he said has made the state a national leader.

“We brokered the nation’s strongest frack fluid disclosure rule in 2011. We are proposing the nation’s first ever methane capture rule,” he said.

Additional legislation proposed for this session would increase penalties for violations of permits and rules.

Supporting the energy industry while protecting the environment remains a priority, Hickenlooper said. He cited as an example state-based efforts to protect sage grouse habitat over federal management policies deemed too restrictive. “I believe we can protect the sage grouse while at the same time allowing ranches, farms and other economic activity to flourish.”

Among other proposals, Hickenlooper called for additional $100 million in state funding for higher education and a cap on tuition increases at 6 percent, an increase in the state’s general fund reserve to 6.5 percent and computer upgrades that would reduce waiting times at Division of Motor Vehicle offices.