By Tom Clark
Every day, metro Denver is under some company's microscope, being examined from every direction as a potential site for a new business expansion.
Recently, nine site selection executives who make their living performing those analyses and making recommendations to clients were guests of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation for our annual Metro Denver Site Selection Conference. They came to learn about metro Denver's economy and to tell us about how effectively we compete with other regions around the globe.
They were the "professors," we the eager students.
We were told that our incentives for corporate relocations and expansions are modest. But we already knew that. What we didn't know was that many companies perceive our lack of incentives as a signal that Colorado is not pro-business. This surprised us.
In the last four years, Colorado has significantly improved the type and quality of incentives for corporate expansions and relocations. Today we are on par with our competitor states, except, of course, Texas. (No one has more money than Texas.) We have been hesitant to extol our new incentive programs during these difficult times because we worry that the next collection of state legislators will abandon these new programs.
Our guests admired metro Denver's ability to get big things done. As one said, "We go to many places where they talk about doing great things. You just do them." They pointed to projects such as Fitzsimons, DIA, FasTracks, the professional sports stadiums, the convention center, etc. We affirmed our national reputation as a center of regional cooperation among business and governments when our visitors learned that most of our civic accomplishments in the past years came through collaboration among cities, counties and state government, in partnership with the private sector.
Two of the site consultants said that prior to attending the conference, they saw Colorado as a place where "people work only hard enough to pay for their outdoorsy, recreational lifestyle." A panel of local companies that expanded or relocated to the region dispelled that impression, however. Joe Potter, vice president and CFO of United Launch Alliance, and Hugh Westermeyer, senior vice president of Charles Schwab Investor Services, extolled the hard-working nature of their employees and the depth of talent available here.
Four hundred area businesspeople attended a sold-out panel discussion with our guests at the end of their visit. One of the site selection consultants was impressed at the level of involvement in economic development by private-sector leaders, while another conference attendee, after seeing DIA Manager Kim Day's presentation on the airport's proposed expansion, reminded us that non-stop, direct flights to other parts of the globe are a crucial, even essential element in the competition for new jobs.
What we were reluctant to talk about are three initiatives looming on the November ballot. Proposition 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 are stalking Colorado's economy, aiming to deliver a punishing blow to the efforts of the past 25 years to diversify the economy and create more jobs. Instead of fostering a recovery, these initiatives would cost Colorado another 70,000-113,000 new jobs. That's almost as many jobs as we've lost in the recent, deep recession. Except this recession won't be brought on by Wall Street scoundrels; this will be a "voter-approved" recession, approved by the likes of you and me.
If these initiatives pass, we'll spend all our time trying to explain to the national and international business community why Colorado, known globally as a center of innovation and high personal incomes, voluntarily committed economic suicide.
Listening to our guests, who have their fingers on the pulse of where new jobs are coming from, I'll be voting "no" on these initiatives. It's just too risky. The potential of hurting our economic comeback is not something I want to be a part of. And judging from our guests, this would no longer be a state where they would feel comfortable bringing new jobs.
Tom Clark is executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.