Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Visit
My first formal meeting in the US was with Mizraim Cordero, Vice President of Government Affairs, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Miz was introduced to me by a social entrepreneur I work with at Cambridge Social Ventures – Jenny Wascak (Sourcing Justice is her social enterprise).
This meeting was full of interesting information about the work the Chamber does in the city which is all focused on more employment for Coloradans which connects to my social enterprise work too. The Chamber runs many programmes but the focus is on the following six critical issues:
- Building an educated workforce – education
- Powering the country and our economy – energy
- A place to call home – housing
- Change how we move – transport
- Preserving our most precious resource – water
- Meeting in the middle – opening primaries to independent voters
You can read more about these issues on the website.
Two new things I learnt at lunch over lunch at The Kitchen, were that Denver has a Taxpayer Bill of Rights and they were the first state to legalise Marijuana / Cannabis.
Taxpayer Bill of Rights
The Taxpayer Bill of Rights was implemented in 1992 and means that state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval and cannot spend revenues collected under existing tax rates without voter approval if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth. Furthermore revenue in excess of this limit, must be refunded to taxpayers, unless voters approve a revenue change as an offset in a referendum. Wikipedia says that under this legislation Colorado has returned more than $2 billion to taxpayers. I asked if people move to Colorado for this benefit as it seems no other states have this benefit, Miz did not think so. I was surprised at that.
Legalisation of Marijuana
The legalisation of Marijuana took place in two tranches: in 2000 and in 2012. I heard a variety of comments on the impact of this legislation whilst in Colorado. One result of it was that the Chamber lobbied for employers to be able to test for it in their employees.
I was fascinated to hear how the Chamber balances avoiding any political endorsement with being active on policy an behalf of their members who are primarily small and medium sized businesses in the city.
US Unemployment at <4%
It was helpful to have an introduction to the city from someone outside the social enterprise space. We also discussed the low unemployment figures (less than 4%) at the moment and how the figure doesn’t always reflect everyone out of work. Some of the people who could (should?) be counted as unemployed, have simply stopped trying to get work and thus are not being tracked. Regardless of the exact figures, there is still an impact on employers’ looking to recruit and keep staff. It means that they need to offer competitive packages and healthcare is a key part of this. These areas are all strongly influenced by policy, hence the increased need for the Chamber’s work on their behalf.
I was particularly interested in the employment figures due to my focus on social enterprises that aim to engage in employment those people who are disadvantaged or furthest from the job market. Are organisations like Goodwill Industries and Greyston Bakery dealing with more disadvantaged people because the less disadvantaged were finding work due to the environment?