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Posted: December 01, 2008

State of the state: December

Natural foods; Xcel and wind energy; the arts; and by the numbers

Mike Cote

*Natural foods: Alfalfa’s founders recall origins of natural foods grocer* Their memories may be a little fuzzy - did early investors put up $5,000 or $10,000 each? — but the founders of Alfalfa’s haven’t forgotten the passion that led them 25 years ago to create a natural foods grocery store that would become a local icon and expand beyond Boulder. Wild Oats merged with Alfalfa’s in 1996, and Mark Retzloff, Lyle Davis and Sahid Hass Hassan have long since moved on to other organics-oriented ventures. At the Naturally Boulder Days conference in October, the trio shared what they learned during the company’s 13-year history. The overriding theme: It’s about passion, not making a buck. "The really successful businesses and the really successful entrepreneurs are not driven by money," Hassan told a few hundred people gathered at the St. Julien Hotel. Hassan’s post-Alfalfa’s ventures have included founding a chain of natural foods stores in the UK that he sold to Whole Foods Market several years ago. Alfalfa’s offered gourmet foods and organic products that largely weren’t available at conventional markets in the early ’80s. But the store thrived because it connected to the local community at a time when people craved a sense of neighborhood. At least once a month the store threw pancake breakfasts, dog washes and other fundraisers for local charities. "For a number of years in Boulder, we were believed to be the place to meet your soul mate so we must have been doing something right," said Retzloff, currently CEO of Aurora Organic Dairy. Davis, who focuses much of his time these days growing organic produce and flowers, said he and his colleagues had the chance to witness and help create an industry that has changed the way people think about food. But they hardly were thinking such heady thoughts at the time. "I don’t think we were always saying, ‘We’re going to change the world and make it a better place,’" Davis said. "It was all about passion." Since Whole Foods Market acquired Wild Oats last year, it has raised the possibility of bringing back the old name to the Boulder store at Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue - Alfalfa’s. _--Mike Cote_ *Energy: Xcel rides with the wind* T. Boone Pickens seems to be on the television all the time anymore, talking about wind power. Pickens, who in 2004 swiftboated John Kerry’s presidential hopes, has essentially taken a page from the environmental movement, redefining renewable energy as a patriotic pursuit. Similarly bold has been Xcel Energy’s embrace of wind. The company in 2004 famously opposed Amendment 34, which mandated a minimum 10 percent renewable portfolio standard. Company spokesman Mark Stutz insists Xcel was misunderstood. "We weren’t opposed to renewable energy. We were opposed to a poorly written amendment," he says. The Legislature, he adds, subsequently smoothed the glitches. Since then Xcel has become a national example for what is possible. It now expects to meet a portfolio standard of 20 percent (later instituted by the Legislature) several years prior to the 2020 deadline. Engineers for Xcel, according to Stutz, now believe they can integrate wind, solar and other renewables to make 25 percent to even 30 percent of total electrical production. The landscape is changing rapidly. Many see opportunities. A public/private consortium has announced intentions of delivering power from Wyoming wind to Colorado’s Front Range urban corridor. Anticipated transmission is 900 megawatts. In the Sterling-to-Julesberg area, a company called National Wind LLC is working with farmers to develop 300 megawatts of wind power. In contrast, Xcel’s coal-fired Cherokee power plant north of downtown Denver produces 717 megawatts. But the reality is not as simple as symbols. Wind energy cannot easily be stored. However, experts see major gains in balancing renewable energy from broad geographic areas. Achieving this will require "farm-to-market" transmission lines and eventually a broader interstate-highway-type transmission system, says Craig Cox, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance. The next presidential administration should lead this effort, he believes. So does T. Boone Pickens. _-- Allen Best_ *The arts: Film commission wants more movie money in Colorado* Most Coloradans are unaware that Colorado loses millions of dollars in film industry revenue simply because Colorado lacks the tax incentives offered the industry elsewhere. "Last year, the film ’Nowhereland‘ — which features Eddie Murphy — spent more than $3 million in the Denver economy for two weeks of filming, but they also filmed five more weeks in Los Angeles calling it Denver," says Kevin Schand, executive director of the Colorado State Film Commission. "The film ‘Resurrecting the Champ’ is also set in Denver but was filmed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada." The commission will go to the state Legislature in 2009 to ask that Colorado offer tax incentives to the film industry. In the meantime, the film commission isn’t the only entertainment-revenue-generating game in town. Total economic activity attributable to culture reached nearly $2 billion in 2007, according to the 2008 Economy Activity Study of Metro Denver Culture, released Nov. 14 by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts. That’s a 19 percent increase in economic activity over 2005, the last time the study was conducted. The report reflects the economic impact of theater, museums, culture and scientific organizations, which employ not just artists, filmmakers, writers and other creative talent but also accountants, managers, operations, marketing professionals and executives. _--Cathie Beck_ *On the record* "On one hand, it’s a discretionary product. On the other hand, you could say it’s a vice, and vices do well in recessions. People still want to have something to get excited about or something to spend their time on." --Wunderdog’s Greg Kulesa, explaining an increase in subscriptions for his Golden-based e-newsletter for sports gamblers *By the numbers* 13 - Colorado’s ranking in the 2009 State Business Tax Climate Index, as prepared by the Tax Foundation. The index measures the "business friendliness" of each state. Wyoming was No. 1. New Jersey was No. 50. *$250 million* - How much DigitalGlobe hopes to generate with an initial public stock offering. The Longmont company, which provides high-resolution commercial satellite imagery, was the only Colorado company in the IPO pipeline by the end of the third quarter. *44* - Ranking by Boulder-based Dynamic Materials in Fortune’s "100 Fastest-Growing Companies." The maker of explosion-welded metal plates for oil refining and other industries had an average 58 percent earnings-per-share growth over the last three years. *2,256* - Number of Small Business Administration loans approved in Colorado during fiscal 2008, totaling $556 million. By comparison, last year 2,808 SBA loans totaling $545 million were approved in Colorado. *449* - Number of SBA loans approved in fiscal 2008 by U.S. Bank, the top SBA lender in Colorado. The loan values totaled $44 million. *11.4* percent - How much the state’s wine industry increased production in 2008 fiscal year. The industry surpassed 1.84 percent market share by volume last year and has increased more than 1,000 percent since 1992, when the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board began recording the data. _Sources: Tax Foundation, Ernst & Young US IPO Pipeline Report, Fortune magazine, Small Business Administration Colorado District Office and the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board_

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

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