Q&A with Debbie Brown | Colorado Business Roundtable

Apr 13, 2020

Colorado Politics: By all early indicators, Colorado’s bout with COVID-19 will have far-reaching, and long-lasting, economic consequences. What will be some of the challenges for our job creators — Colorado’s business community — and how will those challenges have to be addressed?

Debbie Brown: We’re already facing unprecedented losses, and not just economically. The immediate challenges for Colorado’s business community have been, and rightly so, a focus on employee and customer safety.

In the short term, health and safety needs to continue to be a top priority. Colorado’s business community has an obligation to help flatten the curve. Businesses are also uniquely able to restructure supply chains and rapidly engage our workforce to meet the needs of front-line workers.

While Congress and the Trump administration agreed to a $2 trillion federal response to stabilize the economy, we’re also seeing our business community step up in innovative and inspiring ways.

Many businesses have enacted remote work policies, generous new health and leave policies, and new ways to serve their customers through partnership and innovation.

For example, AT&T recently announced they will provide 60 days of free telehealth services in a collaboration with VitalTech, a rapidly growing market leader in virtual care, telehealth and remote patient monitoring deliver patient-centered care when and where they need it most.

Centura Health has created new programs to support their own 21,000 caregivers who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering child care support and grocery delivery so their staff can more fully meet their mission of “responding with courage, kindness and compassion” during this crisis.

The Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers are working together on research and reporting from the private sector on medical supplies and equipment, including personal protective equipment and test kits in a plan to address critical shortages.

While so many are hurting right now, I’m inspired by everyday Coloradans, who are becoming everyday heroes among us — from business, philanthropy, government, education and health care sector. These heroes take a deep breath to reflect on the unprecedented environment, and then commit to move forward. They are the problem-solvers, innovators, risk takers, job creators, job doers, care givers — the heart of what makes us uniquely Coloradan.

CP: What measures should state, and local governments policy makers try to avoid in helping shape Colorado’s economic recovery?

Brown: We’re fortunate to live and work in a state where federal and state policy makers from both sides of the political aisle want to listen and collaborate with the business community. And, that’s really the first step — listening to the private sector.

I think as a state, we’ve become more aware than ever of the power of a good, stable job. Every day, businesses provide Coloradans across our state with income and benefits, valuable products and services, tax revenue, and vital funding for charities. But a large percentage of our elected leaders do not have direct business experience hiring employees, serving customers and growing a business.

Our coalition of business leaders at the Colorado Business Roundtable can provide immediate feedback regarding proposed public policy so elected officials are aware of how proposed laws might affect wages, hiring, benefits, capital expenditures and more. While well intentioned, many proposed laws do not consider the longer-term unintended consequences in terms of economic impact.

My best advice for policy makers in helping to shape Colorado’s economic recovery — listen to the private sector.

CP: Aside from the coming COVID recovery, what other policy initiatives — whether local, legislative or otherwise — are at the top of the roundtable’s agenda for the coming year?

Brown: We generally focus on longer-term policy priorities like smart regulation, workforce development, and transportation and infrastructure.

We’ve launched a Virtual Roundtable Series, hosting substantive conversations with thought leaders, CEOs, and elected officials about how our policy priorities work within this “new normal.” (If you want to join in, you can find them at www.cobrt.com.)

Whatever our policy priorities were just a few months ago, everything has changed. We’re bringing our business executives together to collaborate re: short- and long-term economic fixes to Colorado and we’re working with government, nonprofits, and elected leaders to collaborate in any way to help Colorado get back on its feet quickly.

Looking back at our more specific 2020 priorities, it goes without saying that so much has changed since January. In terms of health care, we support a focus on market-based reforms and innovation to ensure that every employer and employee in Colorado has access to high-quality, affordable health care. We support the private sector competing for talent and customizing benefit packages that best meet the needs of their workforce. We support policies that protect the ability for the oil and natural gas industry to provide accessible and abundant energy resources for Americans.

All of our energy now is focused on how the Colorado Business Roundtable can be a pragmatic and relentless ally in helping Coloradans get through this unprecedented health crisis and see short- and long-term economic recovery.

CP: You took the reins from your predecessor around the beginning of this year. Will the change in leadership be accompanied by an evolution in any of your organization’s policy priorities?

Brown: I’m grateful for the leadership Jeff Wasden brought to the Colorado Business Roundtable for many years, but I’ll admit I’m eager to bring a fresh perspective and differentiate COBRT from other pro-business advocacy organizations.

Working with my Board of Directors from some of the state’s largest employers — executives from Boeing, AT&T, Deloitte, IBM, Apple, etc. — I’ve tightened up our mission to focus on ways we’re unique.

COBRT is the state affiliate of the National Business Roundtable. Based in Washington, D.C., the Business Roundtable is an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving U.S. economy. Nationally, the Business Roundtable CEO members lead companies with more than 15 million employees and more than $7 trillion in annual revenues as major employees in every state.

We’re in all four corners of Colorado, not just Denver metro. And we work on big-picture, long-term policy issues, not lobbying specific legislation. We also work on federal issues like trade and the USMCA that affect our global businesses.

Our belief is that when business succeeds, people succeed. This shared success, an interconnectivity, is critical to keep all four corners of Colorado economically vibrant.

We’re developing a “business is good” campaign that will launch this summer with elected leaders, business and nonprofit leaders, and other strategic allies. And, we’ve relaunched our weekly podcast series as “Profits and Purpose” and will be collaborating with new media partners to showcase how business is vital for Colorado.

We’re living in turbulent times. It’s more important than ever to drive home the message that business is a force for good.

CP: The roundtable is of course nonpartisan, and the business community in general comprises members of both major political parties as well as of no party at all. Yet, the elephant in the room is that business-advocacy groups such as yours find a lot more to your liking in the GOP platform than in the Democratic one. How do you reconcile that reality with the political one here in Colorado: that Democrats wield all the levers of power in state government? How do you work with Democrats to develop public policy you believe will foster a friendly business climate?

Brown: Yes, absolutely! Our organization is decidedly and unapologetically pro-business. We’re not going to change on that. But what we can — and should — do, is continually reach out to others with diverging opinions so we can foster a friendly business climate.

We have smart voters in Colorado — they expect elected leaders from both parties to work collaboratively, even when one party has control of all levels of government. Voters understand that long-lasting, beneficial public policy doesn’t work without collaboration, input or bipartisan support.

I’ve always been inspired by the entrepreneurs and problem-solvers in our business community who helped to build America and make us who we are today. My hope is to share this perspective with everyone, on both sides of the aisle.

CP: Grade Gov. Jared Polis — Democrat, super-successful entrepreneur — in the eyes of your membership.

Brown: While we don’t see eye to eye on his more progressive agenda, my members are hopeful that our continued collaboration will bring additional perspective to his agenda. And, his background as an entrepreneur and innovator, brings a degree of commonality to our membership.

Gov. Polis has participated in a moderated discussion each January at our “State of the State” event with our membership, and he has welcomed Colorado Business Roundtable executives to his office to discuss their top-of-mind business issues and ways that his office can proactively assist the business community with challenges regarding growth and success.

CP: Tell us about your efforts as a business mentor for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda with the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women.

Brown: My belief is a good job solves a lot of other issues. As a single mom, I’ve personally had to deal with issues regarding my own economic future and financial security, so, I have a real heart for the economic empowerment of women.

I mentor young women in Colorado and serve on the board of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and, when my last kid left for college three years ago, I intentionally sought out opportunities to do this on an international level.

When I met Dr. Terry Neese, the founder of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, I was immediately inspired by the work her organization does — helping women create, launch, and grow businesses in Afghanistan and Rwanda, two countries with much tougher economic and political climates for women to succeed.

These women get trained in their home country and then the Institute hosts a leadership development conference in the U.S. where they attend lectures, create international connections, and are mentored by other businesswomen. This past summer, I volunteered as a mentor at their Dallas conference. It was a tremendous joy to learn from these women directly about their unique challenges and opportunities, and I found tremendous commonality with my new international friends. One woman in particular, Manizha Wafeq, also started the very first Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Afghanistan, and we’ve kept in touch through trips to Washington, D.C. and through social media.

On a similar note, I’ve just been added to the International Republican Institute’s Women’s Democracy Network Advisory Council and will be assisting with their mission of empowering women around the world to participate in the political process and equipping them with the skills to take on greater leadership roles. Economic empowerment and political empowerment go hand in hand. And, business can be a force for good, in Colorado and throughout the world.

by Dan Njegomir, Colorado Politics
Originally published on April 13, 2020 on ColoradoPolitics.com
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