CITY SKYLINE
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A double exposure of the city of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak May 17, 2009. Mark Reis, The Gazette

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Colorado is becoming increasingly diverse - and that's good for the state's economy.

That was a key message from Wednesday's Minority & Small Business Enterprise Diversity Summit, organized by the Colorado Springs Hispanic Business Council. The U.S. population is headed toward a majority-minority, with minorities projected to make up 56 percent of the total in 2060; Hispanics are expected to be nearly 29 percent of the population by then. In Colorado, nearly 60 percent of the population under 18 is projected to be Hispanic, black, Asian or other minority by 2050.

"We're going to be an incredibly diverse state," Tatiana Bailey, director of the UCCS Economic Forum, told the approximately 200 people gathered at the Hotel Eleganté Conference & Event Center. Those changes are being reflected in the business environment: An estimated 40 percent of businesses in the U.S. are minority-owned, up from 24 percent a decade ago. Hispanic-owned firms, Bailey said, are the largest component of minority-owned firms and the fastest growing.

There are reasons to embrace that trend, Bailey said. Owners of minority businesses tend to be younger, more likely to use technology and more likely to solicit sales from abroad.

"Dollars that are brought from outside of the country to inside the country," she said, "have a bigger multiplier, as we say, because they represent new dollars into our economy."

Minority-owned businesses have a slightly higher failure rate, Bailey said, but those that survive for five years tend to experience greater growth than non-minority-owned businesses.

The numbers also show an entrepreneurial spirit among immigrants, she said, with immigrants twice as likely to start a business - perhaps, with their backgrounds, showing a tendency to be less risk-averse than others.

"The other thing, from an economic development perspective, is we need all the workers we can get," Bailey said. The national and state jobless rates are below "the natural rate of unemployment," and labor shortages are hindering economic growth.

Two Front Range mayors - Michael Hancock of Denver and John Suthers of Colorado Springs - also touted the value of a diverse workforce.

"Diverse viewpoints in business, like other aspects of life, help create understanding, recognition and more opportunity for all of us," Suthers said. Diversity - not just by race, but by gender, age, jobs and services, and more - "is what creates a welcoming and inclusive city," he added.

In Denver, Hancock said, "in every effort we take as a city, we must ask the question, what have we done to bring people to the table? What voices have not been heard?" An unprecedented "cascade of opportunities" lies ahead in Denver, he said, with plans to expand the airport, grow the Colorado Convention Center, improve roads and other public-works projects. Systems must be in place, Hancock said, to invite women- and minority-owned businesses to take advantage of those opportunities; those businesses, meanwhile, must act to "walk in the door" and seek ways to be competitive, such as partnering with other small businesses in bidding for projects.

Suthers got a laugh from the crowd in noting that Denver businesses are no doubt here bidding on work and telling Springs businesses, "Don't be the least bit shy about going to Denver and bidding on their projects."

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