Colorado: The Globe’s Best-Kept Secret

by Tom Clark

Routes Americas, now in its 8th year, took place in Denver last week, marking the first time the event has been held in the United States. The event brought together leading airports, airlines, tourism authorities, policy-makers and other aviation stakeholders to develop new air services to, from and within the Americas. In light of the conference, Tom was approached by Routesonline to elaborate on the destination. Read on to learn more about how Denver has become one of the fastest growing economies in the nation:  

In a 2006 feature story in the Sunday London Times, the newspaper’s editor opened with the following quote:  “Denver has no reason to exist. Perhaps that is why its inhabitants engage in so many superlatives.”

His story went on to summarize the ascendancy of the next global city arising from the center of the United States. He reported on the Metro Denver region’s commitment of building world-class infrastructure:  one the world’s busiest airports with 54 square miles (140 square kilometers) and the capacity for an eye-popping 12 runways; the construction of a 1212mile (193 kilometers) mass transit system, a $6 billion health medical campus, three new sports stadiums and an arena for professional soccer, baseball, football and basketball.

He saw a burgeoning economy with a diversity of industries including energy, telecom, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, financial investment services, banking and insurance.  Much to his surprise, he learned that the state of Colorado, despite its smaller population, was the nation’s third- largest aerospace economy trailing only populous Texas and California, and the fourth most diverse economy overall of the 50 U.S. states.

The centerpiece and catalyst of this emerging powerhouse was its airport and the region’s commitment to Denver International Airport’s (DEN) success. Commercial air service through DEN is Colorado’s port.   Built to accommodate 100 million passengers at full buildout, DEN today serves 53+ million annually. 

DEN is so important to Colorado and the region that its economic development and tourism groups accompany DEN staff on every project that creates new air service to the region or on-airport improvements that maintain this treasure’s competitive position. Long-term economic strategy is a joint effort among the three groups. This combined effort has culminated in nonstop service to Europe, Asia and Central America over the past 20 years. Today, nonstop flights from DEN travel in all directions of the globe daily, creating new jobs and opportunities for Metro Denver citizens and opening new markets from the destination continents.

The positive economic changes experienced by Metro Denver—created in large part by DEN—are best demonstrated in the airport’s O&D traffic. Planners’ original projections in the 1980s saw DEN passenger traffic as 40 percent O&D and 60 percent connecting. The incredible job growth of the region, much of it spurred by DEN itself, has flipped traffic to 60 percent O&D and 40 percent connecting. 

Colorado is now the fifth-best state for business (Forbes), 2nd for residents with bachelor’s or higher degrees, among the first states to exit the Great Recession, the No. 1 fastest-growing U.S. region for new jobs, (30 percent faster than the U.S. economy as a whole) and median per capita incomes $3,000 more than the rest of the United States.

For over 25 years, the Metro Denver area has pursued an aggressive path to become a global city. With the opening of DEN in 1995 that quest began. Welcome to the next great global region.

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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