Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet met with local leaders of women-owned small businesses Aug. 17 at Catalyst Campus to discover ways he can best support the Colorado Springs business ecosystem and empower female entrepreneurs.

During the roundtable discussion, organized by Bennet’s office, about 10 female leaders throughout the community shared their thoughts on policies, challenges and rewards of owning a business in Colorado Springs, and resources that allow their businesses to grow.

Participants ranged from women who’ve had success in manufacturing, technology and defense industries, to Millennials interested in founding startups.

“The companies you see the most job and wage growth are small businesses,” Bennet said. “Large companies tend to be more efficient and therefore pay less.”

Although Colorado’s unemployment rate ranks the fourth lowest in the country, the Democratic leader added he continues to meet people making the same pay rate they were 10 years ago.

“I’m a big believer in ecosystems having a lot to do with the success of new businesses and I’m here today to get your perspectives,” Bennet said. “Results from these type of conversations over the last few years have produced legislation.”

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Colorado Springs is ranked highest in the state for being the best place for women to own a business and has the highest percentage of women-owned businesses in the country, according to Danielle Osler, Bennet’s senior business adviser.

“Colorado Springs is a great place to do business,” said Kathy Boe, owner of local defense company Boecore. “I started the company 16 years ago because I wanted to make a difference and create lasting careers — today Boecore has 240 employees. There is a lot of support for small business in this city with a great network of people.”

Susan Edmondson, CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said Colorado Springs is becoming more attractive to Millennials because of affordable housing and quality of life however, higher-paying jobs are needed to retain them.

“We are hearing downtown that more Colorado College graduates are staying in the city because of quality living,” she said. “We’ve started to change the culture in Colorado Springs, talking more on its vision for the future. As we understand what the Olympics mean to the community, what the defense industry means to the community and are starting to see more support for creative industries — I think younger people appreciate it. But the right positions have to go along with that.”

Diane Snead, founder of the tech startup Spiffy Goals, said Colorado Springs needs influx in capital through resources such as Denver’s co-working space, the Commons on Champa.

“It’s a partnership with downtown Denver, the Office of Economic Development, Colorado Technical Association and about 20-30 private companies that are donating their time and money for this facility,” she said. “These are tax dollars going toward supporting the startup community, and we don’t have that in Colorado Springs to incubate the startup community.”

To learn more about Bennet’s visit, see the Business Journal’s next print edition Aug. 26.