Gov. John Hickenlooper mixed humor with serious topics in a half-hour address Friday sponsored by the Colorado Springs Business Alliance at the Antlers Hilton.
About 800 people were on hand to hear Hickenlooper, who focused on three topics: education, health care and getting government on the right track, largely by bringing in leaders from the private sector.
The governor’s witty personality was on display several times, an engaging style he uses to attract business leaders to government.
Hickenlooper said 85 percent of the country’s leaders are involved in business with “the other 15 percent divided between government and nonprofits.”
Hickenlooper continually said Colorado should be “pro-business.”
“Not just to be ski-friendly and lovely landscapes but … relentlessly pro-business,” he said. “I especially want strong small businesses. We’re really trying to attract entrepreneurs. I want us to be a leader in technology and innovation. We want to cut red tape and increase access to capital.”
To spur those ideas, Hickenlooper hired Aaron Kennedy — founder of the Noodles & Company restaurant chain — as the state’s first chief marketing officer Aug. 6.
When the governor turned to education, he said, “I don’t care that we’re the number one state in education reform. I want to be the number one state in education results.”
He talked about “professional ladders,” a mentoring program where “great teachers will be paid incentives to help other teachers become great. We need to make sure we embrace teachers.”
One area district, Harrison School District 2, has been a state leader in instituting a pay-for-performance system. It has adopted a system that compensates based on how well students perform.
A less ambitious plan for the evaluation of teachers and principals statewide goes into effect in 2014.
Harrison also has instituted an eighth-grade academy for students not academically ready for high school, and it is holding back third-graders who can’t read at grade level.
Under a new state law that takes effect in 2014, teachers will be evaluated every year and students’ academic progress would count for half the instructors’ overall rating. If deemed ineffective, the instructors could be placed on probation.
Health care can be another part of economic development, Hickenlooper said. He said U.S. citizens spend about $8,000 annually for health care while it costs about half of that for people in Canada and Europe.
He said the state’s health care exchange — due to come online in October — will help lower costs. It’s expected to serve nearly a million customers within three years of startup.
Proponents expect more than half of the customers to use the exchange to cut the cost of their insurance with federal tax credits. Others are expected to buy insurance on the exchange because it will simplify the current, often mind-numbing experience of having to sort through insurance plans with hundreds of variations.
Hickenlooper suggested businesses could provide incentives for employees improving their health.
“If we get education results and health care results,” Hickenlooper said, “more business will want to come here.”