by Tom Clark

I’ll be leaving my post at the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation on Friday, March 31, completing 35 years on the Front Range of Colorado in a variety of economic development roles. 

Doing regional economic development is easy, especially if you have lots of money on the table. But here’s what we’ve learned over 30 years of success in the Metro Denver region.

  1. Think of yourself as a region not a city or a county. Metro regions are the economic generator and innovator for the United States. 
  2. Make peace with your neighbors. Stealing companies from each other doesn’t grow an economy – it grows a grudge that can last for generations.
  3. Build great infrastructure that lasts 50 to 100 years. And build it every time there’s a recession. It’s your best investment in your community and is always an attraction to new job creators.
  4. If you’re a private-sector company, join the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce or the Metro Denver EDC. Your participation and funding is what demonstrates to potential companies and local governments that you are committed and willing to invest in your community. And…you will add great dimensions to the conversation about your community’s future.
  5. Bill Coors once said to me, “If you claim to be a capitalist, you have to behave like one all the time.” Using political power to squeeze out competitors makes money for some, but injures your ability to grow in the future. I know. I worked in Chicago for nine years.
  6. If you’re looking to grow and harboring aspirations of being a global community, set-up a “big tent.” You will need lots of great ideas to make it happen. Frankly, none of us are that smart alone.
  7. See the global economy as it is. You will need international air service. A deep-water port is also a big asset, but the Platte River will not get you to Asia.
  8. Pursue Millennials. They are the “platinum demographic.” Like the Baby Boomers, they are ambitious and bold. And despite the fact they think with three weeks of training they can do your job, they have the same probable impact on our nation as did the Baby Boomers.
  9. A “cluster strategy,” created by Harvard professor Michael Porter, is the most successful approach to growing and/or creating more jobs. The days of reading the Wall Street Journal and calling the CEO of a company mentioned in an article as a possible relocation will get you nothing but voicemail. Working with your cluster companies and pursuing others within the cluster works better than anything we’ve ever seen.
  10. Play the long game. Coming in second in a competition is not always bad. If you treat a prospective company well and don’t waste your time and don’t bad mouth the successful competitor, you’ll get another chance down the road.

See….this is really easy.

Thanks to all of you thinkers, doers, and passionate citizens of Metro Denver and Colorado. You have created a great future for those who follow. And in the next century they will talk about us as we today talk about the great political figures and the companies who started it all, companies like the Rocky Mountain News, Coors, and Gates.

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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