By: Rebecca Saltman Issue: Rebuilding Our Infrastructure Section: Community
Colorado Capital Congress
November 2011: With countless attack ads ringing in his ears, the announcement of John Hickenlooper’s victory in Colorado’s gubernatorial campaign, and the state facing a record deficit, entrepreneur Karl Dakin and a number of other business leaders decided that the time was ripe for further change. Calling themselves CIO Colorado (Chief Innovation Officer), they started brainstorming solutions to the ongoing recession, solutions in which Colorado needed to play a major role or else face an endless procession of fiscal quarters bleeding red.
Although rookies in the overall political process, they nevertheless were able to craft a bill (HB 1266), obtain the sponsorship of Pete Lee, a Democrat from HD 18 (Manitou Springs), and start recruiting support for legislation to create a public-private partnership. Its purpose—to raise and invest money in Colorado’s businesses. They were warned early in the process that any legislation would die quickly if it cost the state of Colorado any money, and so the bill was amended to include a Colorado stock exchange and licensing of finders to match-make stock sales where fees would cover operating costs and generate revenue to pay for a bond offering.
As one Capitol Hill insider puts it, “Getting time with state legislators while in session is like panhandling for money at an intersection. You have to catch them when they come to a stop and pitch your proposal before the light changes.” The number of innovative components in HB 1266 required more time than usual to explain, putting CIO Colorado at an immediate disadvantage.
The bill was voted down 7-6 (in a surprising show of political solidarity, right along party lines – 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats). However, in graciously acknowledging the efforts of CIO Colorado and commending everyone for thinking outside of the box, an invitation was extended by a number of the legislators, civic leaders and state officials to come back after the Legislature adjourned and discuss ideas for improving Colorado’s capital markets. This invitation led to the establishment of the Colorado Capital Congress. The effort is run by Karl Dakin, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Sullivan Chair for Free Enterprise at Regis University. The Congress represents a citizen-led public forum focused on improving Colorado’s capital markets and has teamed with the Institute for the Common Good, also at Regis University, to do just that. “If you don’t like an idea, you can’t simply criticize it. You have to try to make the idea as good as it can be,” Dakin says. “From the perspective of someone who opposes the idea, your commitment is to make it more acceptable. Then, if you are a member of the Congress and you still don’t like the idea, your first chance to say anything negative is to vote no on October 20.”
The concept for the Congress is to promulgate ideas for increasing monies to Colorado’s businesses and projects, while easing access to existing capital. The Congress acts as a new democratic interface between the public and Colorado legislators, without the narrow-minded agendas accorded to other groups such as lobbyists and their ilk. It presents an opportunity for ideas like those raised by CIO Colorado to be vetted through development and dialogue by capital experts and the general public, married to feedback from Colorado officials and legislators.
The Colorado Capital Congress is open to the public, and an invitation is extended to every citizen of Colorado to join as a representative. The Congress provides a non-partisan, innovative environment where ideas will be evaluated, discussed and developed. “The Congress is intended to provide a forum where ideas can be engaged through positive dialogue,” said Paul Alexander, director of the Institute on the Common Good (ICG). The ICG serves the community at-large by promoting the common good and providing a safe and effective space for community dialogue, communal discernment, and public deliberation. The Institute also seeks to facilitate dialogue aimed at developing strategies to resolve important community issues.
From a business perspective, the Congress is intended to give a new voice to the Colorado legislature. However, the need for better communication is not only on the business side of the equation. During any given legislative session, there are often too many bills vying for discussion, the merits of which rarely come under rigorous scrutiny. The Congress creates an opportunity for legislators to not only understand proposals for change, but to participate in the process that may grant those bills life.
As Karl Dakin criss-crosses the state recruiting businesses and legislators to join the Congress, he faces skepticism and apathy. “It’s hard work,” he admitted. “Most small businesses feel that they are invisible and that any effort is a waste of scarce time needed to survive.” He laughed about a pitch to one sitting legislator who stated he didn’t have the time because he was campaigning for office. “How can any candidate expect you to vote for them if they put more time into campaigning than solving our problems?” said Dakin.
The Colorado Capital Congress will circumvent lawmakers’ lack of resources by moving ideas for improving Colorado’s capital markets via a very different vehicle. The Congress will fashion ideas into action initiatives through a carefully-refined six-stage process. The process takes existing bureaucratic functions and redefines them, creating a chronological horn-of-plenty. Each of the six stages alone is a familiar tool in legislative parlance, but here are joined and timed to flow organically. In the first stage, ideas are born – exploring new solutions and improvements to existing systems. Second, initiatives are developed as ready-to-implement, detailed statements of change. Third, the all-important discussion stage represents a determined effort for public input to avoid the behind closed doors label. Logically then, the fourth stage is the vote – indication of support or opposition to a developed initiative. The final two stages – information dissemination (publication of books and educational programs) and action (new laws, regulations, public/private partnerships or private collaborations) are already better known as the public faces our governing bodies.
Up to 20 ideas will be selected as initiatives and assigned to task forces that will be responsible for developing the ideas to a point of readiness for implementation. Then, representatives in the Congress may discuss the issues online. On October 20, all representatives will be invited to the Regis University campus to vote on all initiatives. The Sullivan Chair will then arrange for development and publication of knowledge gained from the Congress. Finally, champions will be recruited to implement each initiative receiving a majority vote. Action may ultimately take many forms, any one of which could impact the daily lives of tens of thousands of Coloradoans.
The organizational meeting for the Congress was held on June 29. Pat Ladewig, vice president of academic affairs at Regis University, welcomed participants and invited everyone to join in the Jesuit tradition of improving one’s community through innovation. Alexander shared some of his family’s history in Colorado banking and set forth the convening principals for dialogue in the conduct of the Congress. Dakin provided details on the operation of the Congress and opportunities for participation.
On July 25, the Congress held a brainstorming session to better identify and recreate serendipitous opportunities: changing how sources of money are matched with businesses seeking funding. Futurist Tom Frey of the DaVinci Institute made a keynote presentation on the future of Colorado’s capital markets. Pointing out how the Roman Empire failed in part due to its use of Roman numerals and its inability to complete higher math functions, Mr. Frey challenged the audience to identify and be prepared to discard the Roman numeral equivalents within Colorado’s capital markets. The address presented trends on the use of money, alternative currencies, and new forms of payment.
Thus inspired, the attendees formulated the four most pressing issues within the state’s capital market which included: sources of capital – existing cash or other resources that may be converted to cash or used as collateral; matching capital sources with businesses – quicker, better, faster ways to create appropriate matches that recognize the readiness of a business to receive capital and the ability of the an investor to evaluate risks; greater incentives – ways to make investments in Colorado businesses more attractive than offshore investments, creating cash reserves or other investment alternatives; and reduction of risks – ways to reduce actual risks and the perception that investing in Colorado businesses is too risky
A variety of collaborative techniques were employed to avoid overthinking, to encourage lateral thinking and to shift perspective.
Several ideas were proposed which will be reviewed and filtered for duplicates and then placed on the idea page on the Colorado Capital Congress website. Members of the public may join the Congress and post their own ideas as well. Key individuals are being recruited to become part of the leadership of the Congress and manage the taskforces developing each initiative. 80 individuals will be matched with 20 Regis University students to research issues and facilitate public discussion. The objective is to develop each idea to a point where it is ready-to-implement.
The first initiative, Colorado Capital Agents, will explore authorizing qualified individuals to facilitate the sale of Colorado securities between Colorado buyers and sellers and to earn a commission for their work. Additional initiatives are being staged on a wide range of topics. Currently these talking points are loosely aggregated into local approaches (enabling community investment pools, single- and multiple-industry specialty funds, and recognition of hybrid L3C entities), and regional approaches (recruiting international capital into the state, online scoring systems benefiting both investors and investees, and government incentives for investing in Colorado businesses).
“To be successful, the Colorado Capital Congress must generate workable initiatives,” Dakin observes. Simple statements of objectives or public policy have the appearance of wish lists. The Congress’ initiatives must address the needs and concerns of investors. Like any customer, investors need to be incentivized to invest now and to invest in Colorado businesses instead of other alternatives. The higher quality of Colorado businesses must be proven and broadcast to the rest of the world. In effect, Colorado’s investment products have to be superior to those of the competition. Product improvement will likely take the form of improving investors’ rates of return and lowering risks associated with investing. Nominations are now being accepted for the leadership of the Congress and individuals are needed to lead task forces with the responsibility for development and dialogue of each initiative.
Business and civic organizations are asked to endorse the Congress and invite their members to become representatives in the Congress. Current representatives engage each other on opposite sides of many contentious issues, but always arrive at one shared observation. The Colorado Capital Congress is a wonderful opportunity to speak up and be heard—to work with others who share the vision that together we can make things better, and to actually dive into the nuts and bolts of our problems, and make changes where they will do some good.
To learn more about the Congress visit http://www.ColoradoCapitalCongress.com or on Twitter at @cocapcongress. To learn more about Colorado Capital Agents visit http://www.meetup.com/Colorado-Capital-Agents.
Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the president and founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. To learn more visit www.foot-in-door.com or twitter @opendoors4u.