Metro Denver EDC accents strengths and challenges to state in ‘Toward a More Competitive Colorado’ report

Benchmark study examines competitive factors related to state’s economic growth.

On Nov. 3, 2016, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (Metro Denver EDC) released the 12th edition of its Toward a More Competitive Colorado (TMCC), an annual benchmark report of 111 measures analyzing Colorado's strengths, challenges, and opportunities for future job growth and economic expansion.

First published in 2005, the report evaluates Colorado's competitive position against the other 49 states. The study is researched by the Metro Denver EDC's Chief Economist, Patty Silverstein and Senior Economist David Hansen of Development Research Partners, and is presented in cooperation with Wells Fargo.

New data shows that Colorado dominates nationally in attracting both workers and jobs, ranking No. 2 in 2015 for adding population and No. 5 during the same period for employment growth. Notably, Colorado has again retained its No. 2 ranking (behind Massachusetts) as the nation’s second-most-highly educated state.

“Having the best and brightest workers is a key differentiator for Colorado when it comes to growing our industry base and appealing to expanding companies and site selection consultants,” explained Tom Clark, CEO of the Metro Denver EDC. “The quest for talent, whether it be attracting or growing a skilled workforce, is one of the top drivers of today’s site selection decisions and what makes a state the most competitive in today’s economic development arena.”

Another area where Colorado stands out nationally is in innovation, ranking in the top 10 for 13 of the 19 innovation measures included in the study. The state garnered a No. 2 ranking (behind Massachusetts) in the Milken Institute’s State Science and Technology Index, which lauded Colorado for its human capital investments and commitment to clean technology.

Colorado’s performance in other key innovation measures:

  • High-Tech Employment (third)
  • Small Business Innovation Research grants (third) 
  • NASA Prime Contract Awards (third)
  • Initial Public Offerings (fourth)
  • State Innovation Index (fifth) 
  • Proprietors as a Percentage of Total Employment (fifth)
  • Venture Capital Investments Per $1,000 of State GDP (sixth)
  • Clean Tech Leadership Index (sixth)
  • Number of New Businesses per 1,000 Employees (seventh)
  • Startup Density (eighth)
  • Average High Tech Worker Wage (eighth)
  • Patents Granted per One Million Residents (ninth)

Alternatively, a key threat to the state’s competitiveness, according to Silverstein, are challenges facing the higher education system related to funding and graduating students in key skill sets that are vital to Colorado’s economic future. Noteworthy challenges include:

  • 48th in state and local public higher education support per student and 47th in support per capita
  • 36th in percentage of students attending in-state universities
  • 29th in the percentage of the adult population with associate degrees
  • 36th in graduating students in engineering tech degrees
  • 43rd in nursing graduates
  • 50th in graduating teachers

“Despite our efforts throughout TMCC’s history to inform policy makers and propel our higher education challenges to be top of mind, we are concerned that we haven’t made any progress,” said Silverstein.

TMCC also focuses on rising housing costs as a disadvantage to Colorado’s competitiveness as a leading state in which to live and work. Analysis found that Metro Denver had the highest increase in median home price among the largest metro areas in each state from 2014-2015, making it the nation’s sixth-most-expensive housing market.

“Housing is increasingly becoming unaffordable in Colorado; we view this as both a short- and long-term challenge to our economic competitiveness,” said Silverstein.

The Metro Denver EDC has tackled home affordability head on in the past two years, by working with statewide stakeholders for positive changes in current laws and local government practices to provide diverse and attainable housing options.

“Now more than ever, it’s become crucial that our state’s legislators and political leaders work together to remedy construction defects laws and make housing more affordable for Colorado’s workforce,” said Clark. “It is paramount that we tackle this issue now or risk becoming a transitory market.”

The 12th edition of TMCC also analyzes Colorado's place as a global competitor, with international rankings for available data points.

>> Toward a More Competitive Colorado - Executive Summary (PDF)
>> Toward a More Competitive Colorado - Full Study (PDF)