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Posted: September 01, 2009

Cote’s Colorado: Bill Ritter has no time to sit down

Mike Cote

Gov. Bill Ritter stood on the steps inside the Capitol, patiently posing as a photographer got inches away from his face. You can see the gubernatorial result on this month’s cover.
We had been working with Ritter for about 20 minutes, and everything was cordial — though he didn’t much like our art director’s request to sit on the steps for a couple of shots, saying it didn’t seem “appropriate.”

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But the governor complied. He didn’t explain, but perhaps he thought the image would be too informal at a time when there’s serious business at hand — like trying to ignite a fragile economy while he readies a re-election campaign.

Ritter had begun his day by having breakfast with his economic team and the group of bankers and economists he meets with twice a month. The news continues to be grim: Ritter mentioned a new study that suggested it might be four years before we see sustained job growth.

In his midyear report in July, University of Colorado economist Richard Wobbekind said the state could end 2009 with a loss of 65,000 jobs and that the state lost more jobs by the first six months of this year than it created over the past two years. As Ritter stood on the grassy lawn outside the Capitol, he joked that he had to think of something to smile about as he posed for photos.

The Ritter administration’s ability to create jobs will be the focal point as the governor begins seeking a second term. He has directed most of his attention on the “new energy economy,” building a job base around the development of solar, wind and biofuels and energy conservation. Ritter also includes natural gas in that mix.

Robert Schwab, a former ColoradoBiz editor, examines whether Ritter’s new energy gambit has enough fuel to propel him to a second term and sets the stage for what the Republican Party may have in store as it tries to unseat him. (See page 40.)

During an interview with ColoradoBiz TV in July at the Governor’s Mansion, Ritter agreed the new energy economy was central to his re-election platform. He also refuted Republican criticism that job creation has come only with big tax incentives, such as those used to lure wind energy giant Vestas to the state.

“We’ve had great job creation. Some of it didn’t involve our incentive money at all,” Ritter said after addressing the newly launched Colorado Cleantech Industry Association trade group. “Certainly, Vestas did. It was 2,500 jobs and four different manufacturing plants.

“I think the state spent a little under $3 million trying to lure them here. But I got to tell you, 2,500 jobs over a two-year period with a $750 million investment (from the company to build wind turbines) — that’s money extremely well spent.”

Those efforts have prompted other companies to come to Colorado on their own, Ritter said.

I’ve been to ribbon cuttings at a lot of manufacturing plants where we did not put anything into it. They came here because the ecosystem is here,” he said, noting CNBC’s recent ranking of Colorado as the third best state in the country to do business (topped by Texas and Virginia respectively.)

Like health care, clean tech is expected to grow jobs during the recession, Ritter said, citing a presentation he recently attended by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. To the governor, that’s solid evidence he’s betting on the right horse.

“We have made it one of the primary focuses of the administration. And we believe we were right in doing that. This downturn is going to prove it.”
Will that proof come in time for Ritter to convince voters he deserves a second term? For many, the answer may depend on whether they’re gainfully employed when they get their hands on that ballot.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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