As news of a potential vaccine rollout in Colorado emerged this week, Colorado Business Roundtable (CBR), a nonprofit advocate for business, and Common Sense Institute (CSI) announced the launch of “The Road to Recovery,” an initiative that gathers dozens of Colorado’s leaders from different professional backgrounds who will develop recommendations to return the economy to pre-pandemic levels.
“In recent years, Colorado has even further diversified our economy, and we are now well established in industries ranging from agriculture to technology. But the economic hardship brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed new modern challenges, such as, remote work and education, fragile supply lines, even as it magnifies the old ones, including affordable health care, technological disruption, and a changing workforce,” wrote Kristin Strohm, president and CEO of CSI, and Debbie Brown, president of Colorado Business Roundtable, in a joint letter in an initial project report.
“It’s time to think innovatively about how we can create sustainable, long-term economic growth that supports businesses and champions a high quality of life for all Coloradans. It’s not enough to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels. We must seize this opportunity to come out of these challenges stronger than ever.”
Included in the report is the statement that Colorado had the best economy across all 50 states in 2019, according to the 2019 US News and World Report.
In 2020, the pandemic has drastically affected economic figures, most notably in April when the state’s unemployment rate ballooned to 12.2%. The rate (not seasonally adjusted) dropped to 6.2% in October, though businesses and communities are not out of the woods, the organizations warn.
Montrose outpaced the state’s rate, coming in with a 5.1% unemployment rate in October, though Ryan Gedney, senior economist with Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment, said the county traditionally sees the rate drop in early fall. Despite the usual trend, he anticipates the rate to rise through the winter and hold in the county.
Gedney added the impacts of the pandemic and the state of Colorado’s economy could make the rate more volatile than in years past.
That’s where the project comes in. The initiative intends to engage in influencing public policy, through collaboration and research, while identifying key “pillars” to the state’s long-term success in the economy.
The project also hopes to amplify what’s working now for businesses while seeking additional opportunities that could thrust businesses into sustainable growth.
Sustaining families and communities
Encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and growth are key to prioritizing a competitive economic landscape, the report says.
This was channeled in Montrose when the Greater Colorado Venture Fund, earlier this year, committed funds to Nomad Reservations, a campground booking company, which relocated to Montrose.
Investment strategies and advancing innovative and effective tax, too, are aspects the state must focus on for long-term economic development growth.
Currently, due to effects from the pandemic, the business climate is dire. According to the report, nearly 40,000 women with kids in Colorado have left the workforce as of September.
To mitigate drastic circumstances, Colorado’s leaders recommend targeting wealth-creating jobs while reinforcing regional and state development corporations to attract industry sectors to keep the state competitive.
Education, education and more education
Strengthening post secondary education options could help the youth in Colorado find a pathway to secure and fulfilling jobs, and the demand for such action is heavily present, the report states.
The state ranked 2nd for highest demand of post-secondary credentials, at 74% of all jobs. This is lessened due to just 64% of each graduating class in the state that goes on to find some form of education beyond high school, but strengthening those options could change the narrative and lead to a sustained environment of growth for Colorado’s youth, the organizations say.
A path for this includes presenting high school seniors with “flex plan” options, which can help separate between high school and one’s college education and future career. Also, prioritizing proper public funding streams to Colorado’s universities would be an investment in the future labor force in Colorado while embracing innovation.
Other factors, the report says, includes expanding opportunities and creating pathways, such as internships and college credit, could “break warriors” that powerfully impact students in the state.
Investing in the state’s future, including broadband
According to the report, streamlining grant programs (to improve affordability), expanding access to underserved rural communities and exploring public or private partnerships would lend a hand in the state’s efforts to expand broadband access.
To compare, broadband coverage (100+mbps) in Denver is 98%, compared to a lowly 15.4% for Dolores County, located in western Colorado.
The state’s vision and intent to improve broadband access is clear, and was outlined in a Broadband Initiative Report. Gov. Jared Polis, through an executive order, created a broadband Advisory Board, which aims to focus on coordination and collaboration of increasing broadband access in Colorado.
“All Coloradans should have access to the information and services only broadband networks can provide. Access to broadband can help communities access markets across the country and around the globe, help hardworking people receive quality health care, and expand educational opportunities for students,” Polis said in a press release. “That is why I called upon the state Broadband Office to partner with agencies and identify what is needed to ensure access to universal broadband so every Colorado community can thrive.”
For energy infrastructure, the board recommends giving consumers a choice that could “help drive change” they want to see, rather than relying on a single provider. The members also call for transparent reporting and increased public information to create a path for sustainable energy.
“It’s time to take deliberate action. Together, we will overcome the economic and public health hardships of COVID-19; protect the policies that have already created economic vibrancy for our state, and support strategies that set us on a path towards sustainable, long-term success,” CBR and CSI said in the report.