Annual Meeting offers a look back and forward

by Tom Clark

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed since the Metro Denver EDC's creation in 2003. That year the Metro Denver region was struggling to recover from the recession. After eight years of a reduced economic development program, the Denver Metro Chamber, under the leadership of Cathey Finlon, Joe Blake, and Don Kortz, restarted Metro Denver’s economic agenda.

Thanks to the willingness of over 70 economic development organizations throughout the nine-county region, to “get the band got back together” and reclaim the region’s reputation as the nation’s best economic development program, we are now one of the nation’s most robust regional economies.

By 2004, the machine previously called the Metro Denver Network was humming again, with all the economic development partners working together to move the region forward. We raised $13.2 million for an aggressive economic agenda focused on National Marketing, DIA, Tax Reform, FasTracks, Existing Business and “Special Opportunities” that might come along. We embraced a “cluster” strategy in 2003 to not only compete in industry areas where we were globally competitive, but also placed a finer point on enriching a business climate that allowed these companies to prosper.

Then the Great Recession hit, but our years of collaboration would pay off and bring us to today.

The rest is history. We are now one of the nation’s fastest job growth regions. We are No. 1 in private-sector aerospace jobs. We are not only one of the top-five states in clean tech, but the nation’s sixth-largest oil producers. 

We are witnessing major expansions in financial services and hold the official title of “bio state,” achieving that sought after goal two years ago. With the help of Governors Ritter and Hickenlooper, we rewrote tax laws and improved incentive programs to help us compete for corporate headquarters. Today, we average six to eight new headquarters each year.

The dream of FasTracks became reality in 2004, thanks to the Metro Denver EDC’s financial commitment to the election and support when the massive rail project encountered tough financial times.

Thanks to our financial commitment to “Yes on C&D” we helped fuel the state’s ability to be a true partner in our efforts. We led the effort to kill the infamous “Poison Pill Amendments” – a poorly crafted initiative that promised a “voter initiated recession.” 

Even our annual meetings are different. Former Mayor John Hickenlooper “parachuted” into one of them. Ralph Peterson of CH2M HILL donated a $1.7 million corpus to keep the EDC’s pledge to “never again” let the regional economy falter.

We are serious about what we do, but not so serious about ourselves. We spent one annual meeting showing the nation’s most talked-about marketing program: COLovesCA, a fun loving Valentine’s Day message of love and appreciation to our neighboring state for its contribution to Colorado’s economic success.

Now we look forward to the next decade. The challenges facing this community’s new leaders are every bit, if not more, daunting than those that came before. We thought that building one of the world’s greatest airports, eliminating air pollution, building vibrant urban centers, diversifying an economy was tough. These upcoming folks will now play their hand at a bigger, global table as a competitor. In the 80s Metro Denver competed regionally, tussling with Phoenix and Dallas. Today we are competing with Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Chicago or,  Dubai, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Shanghai, or Sidney. The world as we knew it ended forever when the non-stop flight to Tokyo made its first run in 2013. By no later than 2016, we will reach the middle of the Western Hemisphere…to Panama. In that Triangle lays sixty percent of the Gross World Product…and our future.

It’s been great run. Yet we have more to do – become one of the globe’s 25 top economic regions, create more access to international markets, fix our roads, prepare Colorado kids for the jobs coming to town, create more diverse housing for young families and the elderly, solve our water problems – not just for the next few years, but for another half century, and make our nation energy independent, through innovation, invention and good public policy.

As I look toward the problems we face in the near future, I’m confident of two things: Metro Denver has the most collaborative local officials and business people who are up to the challenge. And, secondly, the Metro Denver EDC with all its partners will be right in the middle of it all. 

Thanks to you…all of you…who have been a part of this incredible ride.

See the event snapshot video

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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