I’ve written previously about the regional push to invest in manufacturing. Colorado and its neighbors, many with similar sized manufacturing sectors, are host to business interests seeking funding, an improved workforce, tools and expertise to drive new manufacturing activity.
Support varies but in Colorado several communities are poised to benefit from active partnerships between industry, trade and government. We continue to report on a quality group of manufacturers in Colorado Springs, where trade and economic development officials increasingly see value in supporting the sector. On the Western Slope, the success and high visibility of established brands and a burgeoning lifestyle manufacturing sector is turning heads. It’s easy to envision a new private/public partnership that would promote the formidable group of lifestyle companies that call the Steamboat-to-Durango corridor home.
Colorado’s largest concentration of makers and manufacturers is of course in Denver, and officials here seem intent on building-out a world-class manufacturing economy. Denver’s Mayor, Michael Hancock, and Paul Washington, his top economic development lieutenant, speak often of the city’s manufacturing assets as they also move to address challenges to growth, like developing a more robust occupational workforce.
Denver’s also beginning work on a much needed to tool to measure and track the city’s progress. I met recently with Bridget Strand, Ph.D, economist and management analyst for the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) about the project to develop a Denver manufacturing index that would quantify the current state of its manufacturing sector and provide a framework to measure progress. The index will become a regular content feature at CompanyWeek.
“What we’re trying to accomplish,” says Strand who has experience in the financial sector as well as international think tanks in index creation, “is to benchmark the current health of the sector and its underlying industries. We then are able to track the growth or contraction of those industries to determine which areas are driving the growth and health of the overall manufacturing sector in the metro area. For example, sequestration may be impacting the aerospace and defense manufacturing while the locovore movement is driving higher demand in the food and beverage manufacturing industries and is supporting new entrepreneurism in those areas.”
This index will also help support the OED’s business retention, recruitment and small business advocacy goals as it can identify underrepresented areas of high performance and the success and demand for various industry outputs in the region. “The output of small, big, old and new manufacturing companies illustrates a perfect example of what the high tech, highly creative and passionate people in Colorado can create,” says Strand.
Denver’s effort could also become a template for the state and regional Colorado economic development entities, as there’s currently no uniform means to track growth across industry sectors nor agreement even on how to view manufacturing as a whole. I’ve argued that Colorado’s booming ‘lifestyle manufacturing’ sector, for example, deserves more attention in the broad scheme of things, given the alignment of these companies with everything Colorado should be promoting about its business community. Strand, and Denver, seem tuned-in to that imperative.
What’s clear through the weekly profiles in CompanyWeek is that manufacturers from across a dozen or so industry sectors share common challenges and needs, such as a more capable and qualified workforce. What should also be apparent is that collectively, they’re an engine of sustainable economic growth throughout the region. Providing the entire sector the tools to benchmark their current status and track progress is an important development.