History repeats itself and one might easily conclude that the heartbeat of Colorado business is once again energy. Not that oil and gas ever stopped flowing, but the shale boom, headlines of a forthcoming investment gusher and media’s opportunistic content push evoke Denver circa-1980, when the Petroleum Club was hip and Energy the business brand.
We’ll have learned nothing if that’s the case. Encana and Noble, Anadarko and Kodiak and dozens of others are terrific companies. But should energy again be the region’s economic calling card? Even the energy sector might see the pitfalls of such an eventuality.
But if not energy, who? Who’s shaping the character of the Colorado economy? What’s the new soul of Colorado business?
Colorado’s economy is service-centric. Government is the single largest employer, with state and local public-sector budgets on a steep upward curve even as federal spending slows. A growing population requires more services, like education. But other services like trade and transportation, health-care, utilities and professional services are also expanding to keep pace.
The influence of the service sector is manifest in the donor pool of the the state’s most powerful economic development entity, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, where nearly all its ‘major investors’ are service businesses:
Is service then the new soul of Colorado business? As important as healthcare and finance are, again, probably not. But aside from Xcel, an energy-service provider, MillerCoors is the only maker/manufacturer on the list.
There was a time when Coors was Colorado’s bellwether business brand. Today it’s difficult to ascertain whether Molson Coors and its joint venture with SAB Miller, MillerCoors, values its Colorado roots at all. Frankly, Anheuser Busch can make as strong a present-day case as Coors for its Colorado-connection.
Gates Corporation was once an iconic Denver-based global company that manufactured here. Today, it’s tearing-down its historic physical presence in Denver and arguably what’s left of any meaningful brand connection to the community, which is unfortunate for its 400+ Colorado employees.
Lockheed Martin and dozens of other aerospace and electronics firms are terrific companies and define, in part, Colorado's new manufacturing brand. Is 'place' an important operating principle for the sector? Maybe.
Colorado’s national business reputation is largely shaped by tourism, by iconic brands like Vail and Aspen. But it’s hard to reconcile Vail Resorts as Colorado’s posterchild business brand. Vail’s leadership has long acted like its outgrown Colorado.
I’d argue Colorado’s tourism brand is a more compelling asset in the hands of a new generation of operator who sees cross-over value in leveraging tourism on behalf of the entire state. Innovative operators like Monarch Mountain and Silverton who relate more closely to Colorado’s other growing lifestyle brands.
Like craft beer manufacturers. Colorado’s now the leading state exporter of craft beer in the nation. We're also the international epicenter of a natural foods and natural products tsumani. Colorado agriculture is also sustaining an expanding wine sector - with increasingly relevant national brands.
Colorado also continues to rank high in nurturing new business start-ups - in categories that play to the state’s lifestyle attributes. A wave of lifestyle manufacturing growth-companies may emerge in the next three-to-five years if collectively, we can rally around the challenge of keeping these firms in business.
For me, the new heart and soul of Colorado business are companies and leaders who live here because they want to be here, see value in 'place' as a result, and view national and international opportunity through the lens of company-building and sustained growth here, in this community.
Want a soulful experience in keeping with a new Colorado lifestyle brand? Stay at Britt and Don Jackson’s Super 8 in Salida. Ride the Panorama lift to the top of Monarch. Bestride the Divide. Zip-up your Fly Low jacket to cover your Voormi layers, lock-in to your Meier or Wagner skis or Weston board, nibble a 34 Degrees cracker, and ski or ride to the bar and order an Oscar Yella Pils, Montanya rum or Woods High Mountain whiskey.
And consider the future of Colorado business.