Chamber trip to D.C.: Relationships, lobbyists and health care

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Below is a collection of blog entries chronicling the Chamber of Commerce’s annual trip to Washington, D.C., which lasted Sept. 27-30.

Sept. 27: Trip focuses on building relationships

About 70 business and community leaders left the Springs this morning for the nation’s capital for an annual trip designed to focus Washington’s attention on the Pikes Peak region.

Sponsored by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, this is the 12th annual trip to the D.C. area. The group will be in meetings with elected officials, government staff and military leaders.

Each year, participants are divided into five teams to focus on specific areas of interest: economic development, the military economy, health, education and governance.

Just as it did last year, the group will meet with Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior and a Colorado native. It will also meet with Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, as well as U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

The group will spend about a day and a half with Pentagon officials, highlighting the importance of the military to the region’s economic vitality.

An earlier visit to Washington led to the launch of the Colorado Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which assists businesses in finding and winning government contracts.

Chamber officials believe a closer relationship with the Colorado congressional delegation could lead to more military and government contract work for the region.

The Business Journal plans to follow the chamber delegation as it visits Washington. Check back at csbj.com for updates later today and through the week.

Sept. 28: Panama, Pew Institute only part of chamber’s first day

A visit with the Panamanian ambassador and a trip to the Pew Center for People and the Press were only two parts of a packed day at the nation’s capital for Springs business leaders.

The Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce is in the midst of its 12th annual trip to Washington, D.C., and chamber officials already have garnered information they plan to bring back with them.

Angela Joslyn, director of the chamber’s office of International Development, had lunch with Panama’s ambassador – and might have good news for subcontractors.

Colorado engineering and construction firm CH2MHill is the lead contractor for the expansion of the Panama Canal.

“There could be business opportunities in the Springs,” Josyln said. “So we’re definitely going to be exploring that possibility.”

Joslyn also learned about student exchange programs and hopes to talk to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to set up a program.

“This trip, it’s about building relationships, that’s the way you get things started,” she said. “I think we have a good start to create some export and import opportunities with Panama.”

While Joslyn and her group were discussing trade with Panama, another chamber group was learning about the people’s mistrust of the government. The Pew institute recently conducted a study about rancor in the electorate – the findings were no surprise.

“Basically, people don’t trust the government, and that’s on the federal level,” said Ernest House, director of state government relations for the chamber. “But there are lessons to be learned on the state and local level too.”

The study covered the period from 1996 to 2010, and discovered that trust in government was at record lows, he said.

But the Pew Institute also had good news: ways to engage the young professionals – known as the Millennials – into the political process. Those are lessons House will bring back to Colorado Springs.

“It takes more to get this generation engaged,” he said. “We’ll definitely be looking at new ways of doing things.”

The chamber already is doing some things differently. They recently held a “speed candidate forum” based on speed dating parties. Each candidate had about five minutes to talk, he said.

“That was a way to get them involved, in a way they could understand,” he said. “We’ll be bringing home more ideas like that one.”

Sept. 28: EDC meets with lobbying job candidate

Local officials got the chance to meet with one of the candidates to become the area’s lobbyist while in Washington, D.C.

The group, a coalition of business and community leaders headed by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, met with Patton Boggs, one of at least three lobbying firms the group is considering to hire on behalf of the region. The group plans to spend $100,000 a year for the position.

“We aren’t accessing all the grants and federal money out there,” said EDC President and CEO Mike Kazmierski, who is on the team to select a lobbyist. “And we should be. We’re one of the few communities that doesn’t have someone in Washington – someone with their ear to the ground, with our interests at heart.”

The meeting with the lobbying firm highlighted one thing the region is doing correctly: focusing on industry clusters, as outlined in Project 6035, a economic development blueprint in place for about a year.

“The federal government is highlighting these clusters as a way to create jobs and accelerate growth,” Kazmierski said. “It falls in line both with 6035 and with the Southern Colorado Regional Business Partnership.”

The Obama administration has another way of creating jobs: doubling U.S. exports. That goal will create between 3 million and 5 million new jobs, Kazmierski said.

“Colorado Springs is 86th out of 100 cities for exporting,” he said. “So we have room to grow. Exports could be the way to create jobs at home, and nationally.”

But the region needs a voice in D.C. to access federal grants, loans and aid for export businesses, as well as for cluster industries.

A region with 600,000 people and five military installations should have a regular lobbyist for military, defense and public policy, Kazmierski said.

“It makes sense for us, and it can benefit the region,” he said. “There’s no escaping the fact that we aren’t getting all the money we could be right now. You have to know about these grants, and we just don’t.”

Funding for the new lobbyist will come from a mixture of public and private money: the Colorado Springs Chamber is putting $10,000 in, as is the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, Ent Federal Credit Union, Colorado Springs Utilities and El Paso County. The other donors have not been identified.

Sept. 28: Nation’s cities face troubled future

The news isn’t good for the nation’s cities.

That’s the word from the National League of Cities, one of the stops on the Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington, D.C.

“Not a surprise, it’s all about jobs and the economy right now,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. “Every city is concerned.”

So much so that one city in Texas just passed a 2-cent tax for economic development, and the state of Ohio set aside a $700 million fund for economic development and innovation.

“It’s what the competition is doing,” Kazmierski said. “It’s good to know. We have a better product, of course.”

Cities are scrambling to create new jobs because they know revenue will be decreasing. For the first time in 25 years, property tax valuations are down, and that means less money.

It’s less money at a time when unfunded mandates and health care costs have gone up 120 percent during the past 10 years, Kazmierski said.

“Some cities are struggling, to the point of having to declare bankruptcy,” he said. “Of course, some of them can levy taxes without voter’s approval.”

Another issue for the nation’s municipalities: a bill before Congress that will require collective bargaining in every city.

“Right now, there is no requirement, and Colorado is one of the about 15 states that don’t have collective bargaining,” Kazmierski said. “It’s going to increase the cost of government.”

Sept. 29: Reform poses concerns for private doctors

Health care is on the minds of Congress, and on the minds of the Colorado Springs health care team visiting Washington, D.C., as part of the Chamber’s annual trip.

Debbie Chandler, CEO of Colorado Springs Health Partners, said the group spent yesterday in a roundtable discussion with Wall Street health care analysts, none of whom painted a rosy picture of what reform will mean to the industry.

“We were both horrified and fascinated by the predicted impact of health care reform on different sectors of our industry,” Chandler wrote in an email. “The industry analysts seem aligned … (reform) will only increase the cost of health care in the U.s. because the legislation does not directly bend the cost curve and there are many good ideas – but not teeth.”

One analysts predicted that 80 percent of doctors will be employed by hospitals by 2015.

“That is hard for me to believe,” she said. “The big question is who will provide this access, as we face a shortage of primary care physicians.”

Consolidation will also continue in health care delivery systems – small and large hospitals, larger physician groups.

“This may further impact costs as larger systems are able to consolidate employer and health plan purchasing options,” she said.

The team also visited the National Association of Community Health Centers, and leared that the reform package will double funding to federally qualified health centers such as Peak Vista Community Health Centers in Colorado Springs.

Federally qualified health centers serve 20 million people nationwide, and could serve as many as 40 million by 2015.

“Unlike my private practice of physicians, health centers like Peak Vista are paid for their cost of caring for Medicare/Medicaid patients versus a fee schedule per visit or service,” she said. “Incidentally, the fees we receive for Medicare patients do not cover the cost of care.”

The health care group finished the day at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md, which houses more than 18,000 employees, including 4,000 doctors involved in medical and health care administration research.

Sept. 29: Chamber delegation visits Capitol Hill

Colorado’s congressional delegation is leading the fight to bring a combat aviation team to Fort Carson, welcome news for the Colorado Springs group visiting Washington, D.C. this week.

On Wednesday, the group met with legislators, and for the first time in recent years, managed to meet with representatives from all nine Congressional offices.

Fort Carson is one of two Army posts to make the final list. Leaders at Fort Carson believe the new aviation brigade is essential to their training.

As a whole, the Colorado delegation is dedicated to erasing the deficit, while creating jobs and balancing the federal budget.

In fact, Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., said Sen. Michael Bennet clarified stances for the group.

Bennet, for instance, has legislation that he believes will cut the deficit from 12 percent to 3 percent during a number of years, Kazmierski said.

“He is also opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act, known as the check card legislation, in its current form,” he said. “From a business perspective, that’s good news.”

The group also is nearing a decision to hire a lobbyist, Kazmierski said. The coalition of eight, led by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, has started negotiating with a single firm, but the name of the firm will not be released until the decision is final.

Sept. 30: Trip about networking, partnerships and even health

Going on the annual Chamber of Commerce trip to Washington, D.C., is about more than learning about the inner workings at the nation’s capital. It’s also about how things work in Colorado Springs.

“Making connections with our delegation, meeting lobbyists and learning about the political atmosphere – those things are important,” said Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. “But it’s equally about creating relationships to make things work better in Colorado Springs.”

The trip routinely creates new partnerships here in the Springs, he said.

Last year, the Old North End Neighborhood health care project was created during the chamber trip. The project allowed residents of the Old North End, a residential neighborhood north of downtown, to partner with Penrose-St. Francis Health Centers to monitor improve health. The six-month project benchmarked health indicators – body mass index, cholesterol for six months. The result: more than 1,000 pounds lost and better health.

“This year, people are meeting that wouldn’t otherwise get together,” Kazmierski said. “Those kinds of relationships are vital to the growth and development of the city.”