Mayor Wade Troxell and Small Business Administration Region VIII Administrator Betsy Markey visited small businesses in Downtown Fort Collins on Saturday after Thanksgiving to highlight the importance of shopping at locally owned businesses during Small Business Saturday. The Mayor also presented a proclamation about Small Business Saturday at the November 15 regular City Council meeting to community business leaders representing the North and South Fort Collins Business Associations, the Downtown Business Association and the Larimer Small Business Development Center. Read the proclamation.
Meet Sean Carpenter, Climate Economy Advisor
Sean Carpenter, one of the City’s newest employees, grew up emptying coins from parking meters and cleaning the bathrooms at his dad’s real estate and farmer’s market businesses in Michigan, which began an enduring passion for entrepreneurship. A life-changing experience as a summer exchange student in Mexico during college put Sean on an international path, which was followed with a stint in the Peace Corps. Since that time, Sean has been living working around the world, including in Seoul, Guadalajara, Geneva and Malawi, among other locations. Sean got involved with microfinance and lending for disadvantaged entrepreneurs in California after receiving his MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in 2000. On the finance side, he’s spent the past 16 years setting up dedicated banks for women entrepreneurs (India), lending cooperatives for farmers (Nicaragua), and women’s savings and lending programs around the world (Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Botswana, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Guatemala). In September, he began working for the City of Fort Collins in the newly created role as Climate Economy Advisor for the City organization.
Q: Tell us more about your background?
A: I grew up more or less an “indentured servant” working in my father’s various businesses. My dad was officially a civil rights attorney, but his true passion was entrepreneurship. He redeveloped a blighted part of my hometown and built a shopping center with about 25 local businesses, a farmers market and a NY-Style deli that was located across the street from his law office. I grew up working in all those businesses from about the age of 5, after school and on the weekends, which taught me both humility and a strong work ethic.
As an undergraduate in college, I had a professor who I really admired and he invited me to be a teaching assistant for him in central Mexico for a summer program he was leading. At that time, I probably couldn’t have found the State of Ohio on a map, so “Mexico” sounded both exotic and mysterious. However I was pretty poor at that time because my dad had died and we were pretty strapped financially, so while I accepted the role, I couldn’t afford an airplane ticket to Mexico City like all the other students. So I drove across country, left my car at the border in California, and crossed on foot. I literally couldn’t say “hello” in Spanish, and I certainly couldn’t pronounce the name of my final destination (Querétaro), let alone even find the train station in Mexicali and buy a ticket. It was only through the kindness and incredible generosity of folks in Mexicali and along the way that I stumbled into the University of Querétaro a week late. Nevertheless, I was placed with an amazing family and I fell in love with Mexico and Latin American culture. I came back determined to learn Spanish and live in Latin America. After graduation, I joined the Peace Corps and built gravity flow drinking water systems in rural Bolivia. That started my international career.
Q: How did you get into international finance and economic development?
A: After Peace Corps, I worked for several years in North Asia with the USO, working in “tour, travel and entertainment” for the U.S. military in Korea, and then decided to go to business school and did an international MBA at Thunderbird, which was the top international MBA program in the world at the time. After graduation, it was important for me to continue to do mission-driven work, and so I went to work for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), where I started a pilot program to help legally admitted refugees and political asylees become entrepreneurs and start their own businesses, with direct small business lending and technical assistance. Refugees often have skills and credentials that can’t easily translate to the U.S. job market. Seeing a guy with a PhD in physics from Afghanistan pushing a broom at Sea World is really depressing, so helping them become successful small business owners, and later naturalized American citizens, was a great experience both personally and professionally.
I then went to work for Project Concern International (PCI), an international non-governmental organization based in San Diego and Washington, D.C., with about 750 staff working across 14 countries in Asia, Africa and Latina America. I began working in agribusiness, climate adaptation and resiliency and rural economic development, including setting up banks for women entrepreneurs and agricultural lending programs. For example, I helped set up a bank for women entrepreneurs in Rajasthan, India with a $25,000 loan from Muhammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank. To date, the bank has originated more than $17M in loans, and it enjoys a default rate of less than 0.17 percent, all with zero debt on its balance sheet. It even has more cash assets than PCI at this point, an organization that was founded in 1961! That kind of work has been a really great experience.
Q: What will you do in your new role for the City?
A: I’ll be working with both internal stakeholders within the City, as well as outward facing with financial institutions, banks, CRE etc. to try to bring in additional resources and tools in support of the City’s “Road to 2020” GHG reduction objectives. As this is a new position, it’s a bit of “defining the job as we go,” but I’m excited and fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of all of the smart, dedicated people at the City who have been working in and defining this space over the past 10 years. So my role is essentially to build on and support all the fantastic work that’s been accomplished to date, and perhaps bring some new ideas and thinking from some of my previous work to bear here in this new role. I’m really lucky to have such a fantastic team, working with Josh Birks, Jacqueline Kozak Thiel and all the smart, dedicated folks at the City’s Utilities and other departments.
Q: How did you end up in Fort Collins?
A: I’ve been working and traveling all over the world. I was originally based in San Diego, CA and also in Washington, D.C., and about six years ago we decided we wanted to live here and raise our kids in Fort Collins, so in late 2010 I began working remotely and traveling from my home here in Colorado. I’m married and have two kids – a 13-year-old girl and 11-year-old boy. My wife is a civil engineer. She’s the president of a utility-scale, alternative energy consulting firm (Solas Energy Consulting) with projects around the country and across North America. We’re now both in this green space. She’s a great asset to me in my new role with the city, both because of her tremendous knowledge in this space, and because she’s just way smarter than I am.
Nearly 300 people registered for City's annual Business Appreciation Breakfast on September 7 featuring Ryan Wood, co-founder of the Under Armour apparel company, owner of Sweetwood Cattle Co. in Steamboat Springs and former Dallas Cowboys fullback. The Business Appreciation Breakfast honors businesses for their contributions to a healthy Fort Collins economy. The event is sponsored by the City’s Economic Health Office.
City Funds Targeted Industry Clusters
The City of Fort Collins Economic Health Office recently selected the first round of the 2016 Cluster Funding Allocation as part of its mission to partner with targeted local industry clusters and regional sectors that advance the economic vitality of our community.
This year’s recipients:
- Northern Colorado Food Cluster was awarded $30,000 to assist in finalizing the organizational action plan, pursue high impact community projects and federal grants, build regional networks and facilitate supply chain enhancement discussions.
- SpokesBUZZ was awarded $30,000 for program development with CSU, Colorado Creatives industries, Bohemian Foundation and the Lincoln Center; for artist talent development; and for industry-wide arts and music promotion, education and marketing.
- Northern Colorado Bioscience Cluster was awarded $30,000 to strengthen and grow the mentorship network, build out the talent pipeline and support emerging Northern Colorado bioscience companies through partnerships with Innosphere, CSU Research Innovation Center, UC Health and additional regional stakeholders.
- Idea2Product (3-D Printing Lab) was awarded $20,000 to support small business manufacturing, training and educational opportunities, as well as enable small-scale fabrication to expand innovation opportunities in Fort Collins.
- Rockies Venture Club was awarded $15,000 to help facilitate the creation of an angel investing network in Fort Collins and offer education programming and mentorship opportunities at Galvanize Fort Collins.
- Bas Bleu was awarded $9,000 to target underserved populations and children by creating industry partnerships around maker spaces.
- BizGirls was awarded $2,000 to expand the boot-camp-style leadership training program geared toward high school females in Fort Collins and provide scholarship funding for young women from underserved populations for the June program.
The City of Fort Collins opened its newest recreation center – the Foothills Activity Center – on Monday, March 28 as part of the public investment made in the redeveloped Foothills mall.
The $5.8 million center, which is just inside the mall across from the new parking garage, replaces the Youth Activity Center formerly located on Monroe Avenue. Child development, youth and adult sports, fitness and dance programs will be offered in the facility.
The Foothills Activity Center is part of the $53 million in public improvements funded by the Fort Collins Urban Renewal Authority for the $313 million mall redevelopment. The public funding supports new sidewalks, improved pedestrian and bicycle access, improved safety and a new underpass under College Avenue that will connect the mall to MAX Bus Rapid Transit.
Urban Renewal Authority Update
Redevelopment staff have begun to communicate with eligible taxing entities about the City’s plans to expand the Urban Renewal Authority Board of Directors. The Board will be expanded to include a representative of the school districts, Larimer County and special districts. An additional representative will be invited from the pool of remaining taxing entities. The City held an informational session for those taxing entities in February. For more information, contact Patrick Rowe, the City's Redevelopment Coordinator, at 970.416.2231.
Fort Collins received an A in Small Business Friendliness this year in the 2015 Thumbtack Small Business Friendliness Survey. We've also been ranked in the Top 10 for tech jobs (Fast Company) and the Top 20 Best Places for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) jobs (NerdWallet). See other accolades about Fort Collins.
City Council on June 2 adopted an upated Economic Health Strategic Plan, which emphasizes more connections to the Social Sustainability and Environmental Services departments and addresses five key themes:
- Community Prosperity: Employment opportunities exist across income and education/skill spectrums
- Grown Our Own: The economic ecosystem fosters the development of new and creative industry
- Place Matters: A balanced built and natural environment
- The Climate Economy: Businesses adapt to climate change by staying in our community and leverage community carbon reduction goals to develop new products and services
- Think Regionally: A region that partners to address economic issues that extend beyond municipal boundaries