Oil, health care, military experts address business concerns at CSBJ breakfast

Oil and gas has been a welcome boom for Weld County, says Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway.

Colorado Springs stands to lose hundreds of jobs and thousands in economic impact from sequestration cuts to the defense budget – but there could also be some opportunity, said Scott Bryan, owner of Bryan Construction and a member of the Federal Coalition for Strategic Action.

And changes to health benefits are coming – businesses should prepare for them, Memorial Health System CEO Mike Scialdone.

All three men were the featured panelists during the CSBJ’s first “Breakfast with the Journal” this morning at the Antlers Hilton. The crowd of more than 100 business owners and leaders learned about oil and gas regulations in Weld County, but learned more about the potential local business benefits that stem from oil and gas explorations.

“We have 18,700 wells in Weld County,” Conway said, “and not a single incident of contaminated water. This is something I’m passionate about. Oil and gas was a real boom for Weld County, and it hasn’t affected our agriculture or our health.”

The county has received millions in property and sales taxes from the oil companies – and has a $92 million contingency fund. Its schools and infrastructure also benefit from oil and gas revenue.

“Our junior college was the only school in the nation that didn’t raise tuition last year,” Conway said. “You can bet those students aren’t protesting fracking. It’s ‘drill, baby, drill.’”

Bryan had more sobering news for the crowd of about 100, telling them that defense cuts already in the works – combined with the sledgehammer cuts from sequestration, could be devastating for the state and the region.

“Colorado could lose 20,000 jobs,” he said. “And these are conservative numbers, I think.”

But as the federal government prepares for a new round of Base Realignment and Closure talks, Bryan said it was time for the state to prepare its case to keep its mission, and lobby for new ones.

“We should look at BRAC as an opportunity,” he said. “We could get more missions here. But, we need to work now. We need a team, a high level team, to go to the Pentagon. We need a strategy to get those missions here, instead of losing them.”

Scialdone’s message was one of change. Businesses should prepare for changes to health plans as the final stage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are put in place during the next several years. He said health providers should focus more on health and wellness – and keeping people out of the hospital.

“Frankly, that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Big decisions are on the horizon for businesses. Companies with fewer than 50 employees can send their workers to the exchanges for benefits with no penalty. Those with more than 50 are going to have to decide whether to offer a plan, or take the penalty, he said.

“There are more people who will have coverage in 2014,” he said, “but fewer dollars from the government. That’s going to change health care, change the way we do business.”

The next ‘Breakfast with the Journal’ is scheduled for April 18. Topic to be announced.