[This op-ed was originally published here in the Reporter Herald on August 18, 2016.]
In Colorado, we are known for many things: beautiful mountains, unbeatable skiing, world-class dining and breathtaking national parks, to name a few. However, what doesn't get enough recognition is our manufacturing sector, a powerhouse essential to our Rocky Mountain economy.
How important exactly is manufacturing to our state's economy? One of the best measures of an industry's contribution to an economy is its exports. In 2013, exports in Colorado's advanced manufacturing sector totaled $4.8 billion. That accounted for 93 percent of Colorado's exports.
As president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, it is my responsibility to understand what industries, policies and trends are driving the Colorado economy. Over the last few years, our economy has performed well compared to the rest of the nation. We have seen decreases in the unemployment rate, increases in our GDP and an incredible tourism boom, all of which have marked Colorado as a leader in economic recovery following the Great Recession.
Despite these gains, we must not forget the importance of one of the largest forces behind our economic success — manufacturing. That sector can propel our economy and job growth even further, in tandem with our tourism and business sectors. New manufacturing plants have a ripple effect; the creation of one job within a manufacturing plant leads to the creation of several more.
Consider a technology manufacturer in Denver selling its product across the United States; that income not only creates direct jobs at the factory itself, but it also creates jobs at the company that sells utilities to the factory with indirect jobs. It also provides induced jobs at gas stations, grocery stores and retail shops as all of these job holders spend their increased disposable income within the Colorado community. Each manufacturing job at that plant in Denver created about 2.5 additional jobs in other sectors of the economy. In the past year alone, Colorado manufacturers were responsible for creating an estimated 43,615 jobs.
These manufacturers are not necessarily giant corporations; many are small businesses, with less than 500 employees. Currently, there are 5,900 companies in Colorado that work in advanced manufacturing, of which 5,700 export. Of those that export, 88 percent of manufacturers are small or medium-sized employers.
These small businesses are what define our communities and local economies. They are owned by hard-working Coloradans, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Supporting manufacturing in Colorado isn't just supporting our economy; it's supporting small business and the citizens who own those businesses.
In 2015, manufacturing employment surpassed the 2015 forecast by the University of Colorado Boulder's Leeds School of Business, making it the fifth consecutive year of gains. Let's make 2017 its sixth year. In 2015, real GDP in manufacturing grew by 3 percent year-over-year, making it the eighth fastest-growing industry in Colorado. These numbers show manufacturing's serious economic impact to our state.
Let's keep growing Colorado. Grow manufacturing, grow our economy.
Jeff Wasden is the president of Colorado Business Roundtable.