John Hickenlooper gave his first speech as governor-elect  Thursday in Colorado Springs — a deliberate choice designed to send a message.

Hickenlooper said he will ignore the political barriers that have often divided Colorado Springs and Denver.

“We wanted to make a statement that those boundaries don’t help anyone,” Hickenlooper said after delivering a 30-minute speech to about 300 civic leaders at the Downtown Partnership’s 13th annual Mayor’s Breakfast at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

The rift between Denver and Colorado Springs is old and deep. Denver is the hub for Democratic politics. Colorado Springs is a Republican bastion.

The difference was on display Tuesday. While Denver voters heavily backed Democrats including Hickenlooper and incumbent U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, voters in El Paso County came out in droves for conservative gubernatorial hopeful Tom Tancredo and Republican Senate challenger Ken Buck.

Hickenlooper said he’ll be a magnanimous victor.

“I’m hoping I will have both Republican and Democratic support,” he said.

In his speech, Hickenlooper said improving Colorado’s business climate is the only way the state will overcome continued budget shortfalls that have hamstrung programs, including higher education. There is, he said, “no hidden money” in the state budget.

“You have to help businesses grow,” he told the audience. “Without an expanding business community we will not have the resources.”

Hickenlooper said he wants to launch what he called a “bottom-up” economic development plan for the state by having business owners and civic leaders in all 64 counties create their own. Those plans then would become the backbone of a state economic development blueprint — a departure from past planning, which started with state leaders and was sent down to local governments.

Key to business growth, he said, will be marketing the state.

Hickenlooper has done business in Colorado Springs, renovating a historic downtown building slated for demolition to create Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. brewpub on Cascade Avenue. He has since sold his stake in the restaurant.

He also pledged Thursday to back military growth in El Paso County, cut red tape and streamline government.

“I think state government has to be smaller with fewer employees,” he said.

Hickenlooper drew three standing ovations.

Developer Chuck Murphy, a lifelong Democrat and friend of Hickenlooper’s, said the Denver mayor “could have gone anywhere” to give his first speech as governor-elect.
“Here he came to Colorado Springs. He came to Colorado Springs, a city that really didn’t — there were some of us who voted for him — but, I mean, this was Tancredo’s stomping ground,” he said.

“It says that he’s open-minded, that he’s progressive,” Murphy said.

“We’ve turned the page,” he said. “This is a new era, a new era for Colorado Springs, a new era for the state of Colorado. We have a businessman who is committed, genuinely committed, to making things better.”

Reporter Daniel J. Chacón contributed to this report.