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Busy Busy Business Bees

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Bee conservation has become increasingly important in contemporary society — that means in southern Colorado, too.

Honeybee populations have recently seen a severe decline that could have serious consequences for the human population, with honeybees contributing nearly $14 billion to the value of U.S. crops according to a statement on the NW Honey Bee Habitat Restoration website – a nonprofit education and research foundation committed to the protection and preservation of honeybees.

This epidemic of honeybee population loss is known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” It happens due to a variety of environmental factors, including: loss of habitat, disease, and climate change. Arguably the most contributing factors, however, are herbicides, chemicals, and pesticides.

Pueblo’s economy, like several in southern Colorado, depends on pollinators like bees, as agriculture is one of Pueblo’s major industries.

Diminished pollination activity caused by the decline in bee populations has put conservation efforts in a position of paramount importance to the city’s future. Thus, Pueblo has joined the “save the bees” movement by launching some of its own efforts to conserve bee populations.

The Pueblo Zoo recently opened a pollinator exhibit earlier this year, made possible by grants awarded to Pueblo County’s Colorado State University extension office and 4-H programs.

The exhibit houses over 60,000 bees in a series of “smart” hives that feature various sensors that monitor the beehive’s humidity, temperature, weight, and activity. That data is then reported to local and national bee health registries to investigate the direct causes of Colony Collapse Disorder more in-depth, and promote healthy bee populations. The exhibit also includes a pollinator garden, and plans are in progress to use the remaining money from the grants to create hands-on educational programs for youth and adults alike.

Pueblo locals are also making profound efforts toward the conservation of bee populations.

Most notably are those by Nicole Gennetta and her husband, Patrick, who own and run Heritage Acres Market LLC – the first Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) apiary in Pueblo West.

CNG certification is granted to farmers and beekeepers that don’t use any synthetic chemicals or GMOs to produce food for their local communities. The hives at Heritage Acres Market LLC earned their CNG certification by being completely treatment free, meaning no chemicals are used to treat for disease or to maximize honey production. This commitment to all natural caretaking is a key combatant against Colony Collapse Disorder.

Heritage Acres also only houses bees captured from feral swarms, and even offer a free swarm removal service. The purpose of this, according to their website, is because wild bees have already proven they can survive without any treatment, and are thus naturally disease and mite resistant. The foundationless frames of every hive allow the bees to draw their own comb. This kind of structure makes the transition for bees from the wild more fluid because their environment in the hives at Heritage Acres mimics the environment to which they are already accustomed.

Gennetta, originally from Colorado Springs, has been running Heritage Acres Market LLC for about a year and a half now. Her interest in bees dates back to her childhood, but her passion for beekeeping emerged relatively recently.

“I just kind of jumped in with both feet,” said Gennetta. “For Christmas a couple years back my husband bought me a hive…The following summer I caught my own wild bees and put them in there. He bought me another one for my birthday that year, and it’s just kind of spiraled out of control since.”

Gennetta says the climate in this region is particularly suitable for her practice because it’s warm enough for certain helpful species of bees such as the honeybee to thrive, but still too cold for the more aggressive species of “Africanized” bees that are known to be a nuisance.

She notes that the milder winters that the Southeastern Colorado region experiences are also better for the success of the hives.

“As long as they’re dry, the cold doesn’t bother them very much because they can keep warm,” she said. “Ventilation is really important to keep condensation off of them. So we have measures to keep the condensation down.”

Gennetta adds that the biggest issue for maintaining her hives over the winter is the Varrora mite – a parasitic mite that attaches to and attacks the bees and their brood.

“When the bee populations decrease and the mite populations increase over the winter, then that can really bother the bees.”

Along with raising her own hives at Heritage Acres, Gennetta has also made strides to include the community in her practice by launching a Host-A-Hive program wherein individuals can rent their own beehives for their homes or commercial locations. The first year of the program’s operation saw major success.

“We didn’t have enough beehives!” Gennetta said with excitement, quickly adding: “Which is a great thing!”

Gennetta currently oversees fourteen hives spread out all around the Pueblo and Colorado Springs area. She hopes to be up to fifty hives by next year.

The Host-A-Hive program includes five different packages that differ in levels of involvement, ranging from hives that are fully managed by the Heritage Acres team to hives that are independently owned and managed. During harvest season, participants are able to reap the all natural raw honey, honeycomb, and beeswax produced by their hives. Additionally they get the hands-on opportunity to learn valuable sustainability practices, as well as actively contribute to the conservation and preservation of honeybees.

“I wasn’t sure what the interest level would be,” she said. “And it’s been huge! It’s been so awesome. I get so many people that say, ‘oh this is great, I’m glad you’re doing this,’ and that’s just really nice.”

Educating the public is important to Gennetta not only to promote her business, but also to emphasize that bee repopulation will be more successful as a combined effort.

“There’s a quote I like and I can’t really remember who said it, but it goes: ‘The future of the bees is not one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, but 60,000 beekeepers with one hive,’” she said. “I feel like if I can help people become beekeepers or spread my own beehives around, then I can help those populations directly and teach people to do the same.”

Gennetta has one teaching hive in place at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and hopes to open a second one at the Pueblo Nature Center possibly toward the end of August.

Heritage Acres Market LLC provides services beyond beekeeping such as guinea fowl sales, poultry consultation, egg incubation, and more. For details about their products and services, or if you’re interested in learning more about hosting a hive, visit their website at www.heritageacresmarket.com.

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    Thank you for the great story on our business!

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

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AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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20 cities primed on the Amazon wishlist to be its next HQ

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NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s second home could be in an already tech-heavy city, such as Boston, New York or Austin, Texas. Or it could be in the Midwest, say, Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Or the company could go outside the U.S. altogether and set up shop in Toronto.

Those six locations, as well as 14 others, made it onto Amazon’s not-so-short shortlist Thursday of places under consideration for the online retailing giant’s second headquarters.

The 20 picks, narrowed down from 238 proposals, are concentrated mostly in the East and the Midwest and include several of the biggest metro areas in the country, such as Chicago, Washington and Los Angeles, the only West Coast city on the list.

The Seattle-based company set off fierce competition last fall when it announced that it was looking for a second home, promising 50,000 jobs and construction spending of more than $5 billion. Many cities drew up elaborate presentations that included rich financial incentives.

The list of finalists highlights a key challenge facing the U.S. economy: Jobs and economic growth are increasingly concentrated in a few large metro areas, mostly on the East and West Coasts and a few places in between, such as Texas.

Nearly all the cities on Amazon’s list already have growing economies, low unemployment and highly educated populations.

“Amazon has picked a bunch of winners,” said Richard Florida, an economic development expert and professor at the University of Toronto who helped develop that city’s bid. “It really reflects winner-take-all urbanism.”

Among those that didn’t make the cut were Detroit, a disappointment for those excited about progress since the city came out of bankruptcy, and Memphis, Tennessee, where the mayor said the city gave it its “best shot.” San Diego also failed to advance.

“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough,” said Holly Sullivan, who oversees Amazon’s public policy. “All the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity.”

Amazon said it will make a final selection sometime this year.

Besides Austin, another Texas city made the cut: Dallas. In the South, Miami and Atlanta are being considered.

Officials in cities that made the shortlist took the opportunity to further tout their locations, with Philadelphia’s mayor noting “all that Philadelphia has to offer” and officials in and around Pittsburgh citing the region’s “world-class talent pool” and other advantages.

Other contenders among the 20 include Denver; Montgomery County, Maryland; Nashville, Tennessee; Newark, New Jersey; Northern Virginia; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It’s a long list for a shortlist,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed.

He said Amazon may use the list to pit the locations against each other and get better tax breaks or other incentives. Two metro areas, New York and Washington, have more than one location on the list, increasing the competition there, he said.

“It’s hard to say whether all these places are in play or Amazon wanted to encourage continued competition,” Kolko said.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether locations would be able to change their proposals or offer better incentives, but said in a statement that it will “work with each of the candidate locations to dive deeper into their proposals.”

State and local governments played up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice. Some pulled off stunts to stand out, such as New York, which lit the Empire State Building in Amazon orange.

Some gimmicks didn’t work: Tucson, Arizona, which sent a 21-foot cactus to Seattle, did not make the list. Neither did Birmingham, Alabama, which installed giant replicas of Amazon’s Dash buttons.

The company had stipulated that it wanted to be near a metropolitan area with more than 1 million people, and nearly all of those on the shortlist have a metro population of at least double that.

Amazon also wanted to be able to attract top technical talent; be within 45 minutes of an international airport; have direct access to mass transit; and be able to expand the headquarters to as much as 8 million square feet in the next decade.

But Amazon also made it very clear it wanted tax breaks, grants and any other incentives.

Boston’s offer includes $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Before leaving office Tuesday, Gov. Chris Christie approved a measure to allow New Jersey to offer up to $5 billion to Amazon. Newark is also proposing $2 billion in tax breaks.

But many of the state and local governments competing for the headquarters have refused to disclose the financial incentives they offered. Of the 20 finalists, 13, including New York, Chicago and Miami, declined requests from The Associated Press to release their applications. Toronto’s mayor said Thursday that the city offered no financial incentives to woo Amazon.

Several said they don’t want their competitors to know what they’re offering, a stance that open-government advocates criticized.

Amazon plans to remain in its sprawling Seattle headquarters, and the second home base will be “a full equal” to it, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has said.

The extra space will give the rapidly growing company room to spread out. It had nearly 542,000 employees at the end of September, a 77 percent jump from the year before. Some of that growth came from Amazon’s nearly $14 billion acquisition last year of the Whole Foods grocery chain and its 89,000 employees.

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Associated Press writers Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia, Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Rugaber contributed from Washington.

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Tourism still booms in Cuba but Trump’s tougher stance hurting private entrepreneurs

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HAVANA (AP) — On a sweltering early summer afternoon in Miami’s Little Havana, President Donald Trump told a cheering Cuban-American crowd that he was rolling back some of Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba in order to starve the island’s military-run economy of U.S. tourism dollars and ratchet up pressure for regime change.

That doesn’t appear to be happening. Travel to Cuba is booming from dozens of countries, including the U.S. And the tourism dollars from big-spending Americans seem to be heading into Cuba’s state sector and away from private business, according to Cuban state figures, experts and private business people themselves.

The government figures show that 2017 was a record year for tourism, with 4.7 million visitors pumping more than $3 billion into the island’s otherwise struggling economy. The number of American travelers rose to 619,000, more than six times the pre-Obama level. But amid the boom — an 18 percent increase over 2016 — owners of private restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts are reporting a sharp drop-off.

“There was an explosion of tourists in the months after President Obama’s detente announcement. They were everywhere!” said Rodolfo Morales, a retired government worker who rents two rooms in his home for about $30 a night. “Since then, it’s fallen off.”

The ultimate destination of American tourism spending in Cuba seems an obscure data point, but it’s highly relevant to a decades-old goal of American foreign policy — encouraging change in Cuba’s single-party, centrally planned system. For more than 50 years, Washington sought to strangle nearly all trade with the island in hopes of spurring economic collapse. Obama changed that policy to one of promoting engagement as a way of strengthening a Cuban private sector that could grow into a middle class empowered to demand reform.

Cuba’s tourism boom began shortly after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced in December 2014 that their countries would re-establish diplomatic relations and move toward normalization. U.S. cruise ships began docking in the Bay of Havana and U.S. airlines started regular flights to cities across the island. Overall tourism last year was up 56 percent over Cuba’s roughly 3 million visitors in 2014.

While the U.S. prohibits tourism to Cuba, Americans can travel here for specially designated purposes like religious activity or the vaguely defined category of “people-to-people” cultural interaction.

Obama allowed individuals to participate in “people-to-people” activities outside official tour groups. Hundreds of thousands of Americans responded by designing their own Cuban vacations without fear of government penalties. Since Cuba largely steers tour groups to government-run facilities, Americans traveling on their own became a vital market for the island’s private entrepreneurs, hotly desired for their free spending, heavy tipping and a desire to see a “real” Cuba beyond all-inclusive beach resorts and quick stops on tour buses. The surge helped travel-related businesses maintain their role as by far the most successful players in Cuba’s small but growing private sector.

Trump’s new policy re-imposed the required for “people-to-people” travel to take place only in tour groups, which depend largely on Cuban government transportation and guides.

As a result, many private business people are seeing so many fewer Americans that it feels like their numbers are dropping, even though the statistics say otherwise.

“Tourism has grown in Cuba, with the exception of American tourism,” said Nelson Lopez, a private tour guide. “But I’m sure that sometime soon they’ll be back.”

While Trump’s new rules didn’t take effect until November, their announcement in June led to an almost immediate slackening in business from individual Americans, many Cuban entrepreneurs say. The situation was worsened by Hurricane Irma striking Cuba’s northern coast in September and by a Cuban government freeze on new licenses for businesses including restaurants and bed-and-breakfasts. Cuban officials say the freeze was needed to control tax evasion, purchase of stolen state goods and other illegality in the private sector, but it’s had the effect of further restricting private-sector activity in the wake of Trump’s policy change.

Cuban state tourism officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump’s policy changes did not touch flights or cruise ships. Jose Luis Perello, a tourism expert at the University of Havana, said more than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited Cuba in 2017, compared with 184,000 the previous year. Even as entrepreneurs see fewer American clients, many of those cruise passengers are coming from the United States, he said.

Yunaika Estanque, who runs a three-room bed-and-breakfast overlooking the Bay of Havana, says she has been able to weather a sharp drop in American guests because a British tour agency still sends her clients, but things still aren’t good.

“Without a doubt our best year was 2016, before the Trump presidency,” she said. “I’ve been talking with other bed-and-breakfast owners and they’re in bad shape.”

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