PERSPECTIVE: Road to Recovery: This is just the beginning

Jan 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented health and safety challenges to Coloradans and businesses across the state. Now, more than ever, Coloradans need to see solutions for our economic crisis. While there have been many teams assembled since COVID hit to collaborate on short- and long-term strategies, we were inspired by some of our colleagues work through our business roundtable network. The chance for the private sector to lean in has never been more important.

In partnership, the Colorado Business Roundtable and Common Sense Institute were able to develop data-backed strategies for success and forward momentum. Together, we marshaled an influential group of Coloradans: leaders in energy, aerospace, tech, finance, real estate and more, as well as thought leaders on economic development and the future of work.

The Road to Recovery Initiative is a collaborative effort to build policy recommendations as Colorado comes out of the pandemic. The report focuses on three pillars: Prioritizing a Competitiveness Agenda, Reimagining Tomorrow’s Workforce and Investing in a Future-Forward Infrastructure. Each pillar includes recommendations for how to get Coloradans back to work and how to set us on a successful path to economic recovery.

Pillar One: Prioritize a Competitiveness Agenda

Going into 2020, Coloradans had created the No. 1 state economy; we ranked second best state to live in, third most educated state, and fifth most innovative state. In stark contrast, over the course of the pandemic, 1 in every 5 Coloradans filed for unemployment. To say our economy took a hit in 2020 is an understatement. We must contend with old problems as well as new. Just as in 2019, our state had some pain points — Colorado childcare costs ranked 8th in the nation, we ranked 43rd in overall affordability; and, looking ahead, employers will also be implementing a costly new family and medical leave program.

Moving forward to keep consistent “Top 5” economic rankings, Colorado’s focus needs to be on wealth-creating jobs, while establishing an environment that recognizes the challenges of an increasingly competitive and global economy by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and growth. Under these conditions, businesses will thrive and opportunities will be created which will, in turn, help communities and families thrive.

To guide our recommendations, we examined where we were in 2019, where we are in 2020, and where we want to be. We also looked more closely at two key pillar indicators for our research: Colorado’s business climate and Colorado’s cost of living.

While the immediate need is economic recovery from the 2020 downturn, we know we don’t want to see the same affordability struggles over the next decade. Our recommendations focused on how we can protect Colorado’s business-friendly environment while also meeting the needs of Coloradans. That means creating an economy that works for everyone. We can:

• Support smart, targeted economic growth that emphasizes wealth-creating jobs and improves the lives of Coloradans.

• Reinforce the importance of state and regional economic business development corporations in attracting high-value industry sectors with a four corners approach.

• Refine Colorado’s international profile to compete in an expanding global market and attract worldwide business.

• Fuel entrepreneurship so more Coloradans can innovate, create and stimulate the economy.

• Support tax and regulatory policies that keep Colorado in the “Top 5” best places to do business.

• Reform State Health Care Regulatory Framework to foster the health care industry and help drive affordability and access.

• Identify and remove onerous regulatory requirements and streamline existing regulatory compliance processes.

• Reimagine housing to best meet the needs of Colorado’s fluid and flexible workforce and better attract and retain businesses.

• Work with business leaders to create and invest in innovative solutions that address Colorado critical child care infrastructure needs.

Prioritizing a competitiveness agenda will help set up Colorado for success on the road to recovery — on a local, national and global scale. It will require innovation from key industries and thoughtful application of policies that directly impact our community, workplace, and economy: wealth-creating jobs, inclusive economic development opportunities across the state, entrepreneurship, fair tax and regulatory policies, health care policies, onerous regulations and compliance processes, housing, and child care needs.

The need for the public and private sectors to flourish has never been more important. Understanding the role of business will be more critical than ever as we look for businesses to reopen, rehire and recharge our economy.

Pillar 1 co-chairs: Liz Peetz is the vice president of government affairs at the Colorado Association of Realtors and Chris Schmidt is Denver managing partner with Deloitte.

Pillar Two: Reimagine Colorado’s Workforce

In addition to evolving health and safety regulations, employers and their teams face a whole new challenge — fostering a workforce to meet the needs of the future. Even going into a new year, it remains uncertain whether these changes are here to stay. As we reimagine Colorado’s workforce, we must recognize that it might never be the same as it once was.

We put together recommendations after examining two key pillar indicators: Colorado K-12 labor supply and Colorado’s workforce demand. Looking at 2019 numbers, it is apparent that Coloradans are highly educated. We ranked second in the nation for the highest demand of post-secondary credentials — over 74% of jobs require a college degree. However, only 64% of Colorado high school graduates go on to obtain secondary education. In 2019, 32% of top tier jobs required a bachelor’s degree, while only 24% required a high school diploma. We need to stop and ask ourselves, what does this mean for the future of our workforce?

Remote work and learning have adversely affected parents, students, employers, and educators alike. Gov. Jared Polis said the possibility of COVID-19-related learning gaps could significantly jeopardize Colorado’s highest-need students’ lifetime learning. Moving forward, we must ensure Coloradans have access to post-secondary education and training options that meet the individual’s strengths and the market’s needs.

While we hope the pandemic implications are short term, policies must be crafted to set Colorado on a course of success. The recommendations below are inclusive of the P-20 structure and the skilled workforce:

• Ensure equity of technology access.

• Children should have robust options, so every child has equal access to high-quality education.

• Protect and expand the Career Development Success Program.

• Recognize that higher education and traditional post-secondary education represents a critical investment in Colorado’s future workforce and economic vitality.

• Increase focus on training and hiring practices to address the high demand for skilled workforce. Build a structure to allow for quick response to market needs and demands.

• Expand opportunities for younger age groups to enter internships and apprenticeships.

• Advocate for more organic pathways to credentials through partnerships, dual credit, or college credit for work experience.

• Reduce barriers for community colleges to develop specialized programs, in partnership with private industry that meet employer needs.

• Implement financing models for adult training/upskilling.

• Support policies to streamline and modernize work visa programs to recruit and retain higher-skilled and lower-skilled workers to assist in addressing workforce shortages in high-value industries.

Reimagining Colorado’s workforce will require a spirit of innovation and creativity. We owe it our next generation of up-and-coming students to make every opportunity available. For some, college is not the first step towards a career. Understanding they have multiple options after high school by providing apprenticeships or internships earlier will revolutionize the future of Colorado’s workforce. We included Colorado’s fastest growing occupations. But those who choose to earn certifications or degrees later in life often face additional obstacles, like lack of funding to obtain their new accreditation and adequate child care services.

The technological renaissance we’re experiencing is transforming the way we live, work and learn. To succeed in building a “tomorrow ready” workforce requires modernizing training pipelines, embracing technology, and strengthening post-secondary educational options so Colorado’s youths and working adults can secure fulfilling jobs and sustainable career pathways.

Pillar 2 — co-chairs: Dave Davia is the executive vice president and chief executive officer with the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association. Scott Hughes is the national director of Strategic Initiatives Group, Apple.

Pillar Three: Invest in a Future-Forward Infrastructure

In 2019, Colorado faced major funding gaps for infrastructure, ranked 42nd in poor, structurally deficient interstate bridges and highways, and ranked 11th in interstate congestion — 57% of our interstates were considered “congested.” This much is clear: a future-forward infrastructure is critical to unleashing Colorado’s long-term potential.

While lighter traffic was an unexpected benefit of COVID-19, moving forward we can’t overlook the importance of strong transportation infrastructure. Likewise, 2020 exacerbated the demand for broadband access and magnified a need for transparency in our energy infrastructure. To further understand where our infrastructure stands, we examined where we were in 2019, where we are in 2020, and where we want to be. First things first — we must focus on mobility, energy, and broadband 5G because they are the backbone to support a strong economy, business growth, and quality of life.

When asked about Colorado’s infrastructure and transportation system, Henry Sobanet, chief financial officer of Colorado State University System, stated, “We’re probably at risk of having the transportation system not support growth in the way it has in the past if you leave it alone.” Conversely, taking 2019 broadband access into consideration, we now have a larger issue at hand: approximately 54,000 children are without broadband access during the pandemic. So, how do we forge a “future-forward infrastructure”?

Considering funding gaps for road infrastructure, broadband access across the state and the price and reliability of energy in Colorado, we were able to craft recommendations to start working towards an infrastructure that will support us in the future:

• Recognize that a reliable, safe, and robust transportation infrastructure system is critical to Colorado’s economic and social vitality.

• Immediately assess revenue availability and system needs.

• In the short term, review the maintenance deficit and establish a plan moving forward to address pressing concerns.

• Identify and implement a long-term, sustainable funding mechanism.

• Increase transparency, improve coordination between state and private service providers, and report statewide data.

• Prioritize affordability across Colorado by streamlining grant programs.

• Expand access to unserved and underserved locations through federal funding opportunities and statewide collaboration.

• Remove onerous permitting elements and improve access to public right of ways to expedite deployment.

• Standardize state and/or local government guidelines for technology deployment.

• Commit to transparent reporting and public sharing of information related to energy development and usage.

• Promote greater levels of consumer choice.

• Increase flexibility for location and type of new generation assets.

If 2020 has taught us anything in the business community and in our personal lives, slowing down has its benefits. We better understand our infrastructure needs, how to make improvements, and what policies to support in order to get the right funding. Now more than ever, we need broadband access to the entire state so our workforce and learning communities can work and learn successfully. Our infrastructure needs are not just about the streets we drive on or the buildings in need of repair, they are about providing high quality of life for Coloradans and their families so they can thrive.

Pillar 3 — co-chairs: Terry Stevinson is a shareholder with Stevinson Group. Roberta Robinette is the president of AT&T, Colorado.

The Road to Recovery is only just beginning. Together we will overcome economic and public health hardships; protect policies that create economic vibrancy for our state; and support strategies that set us up for sustainable, long-term success.

To read the entire report, visit: https://www.roadtorecoverycolorado.org/report/

Debbie Brown is the president of Colorado Business Roundtable, a public policy organization comprised of executives from some of the state’s largest employers. Kristin Strohm is the president & CEO of the Common Sense Institute, a nonprofit, free-enterprise think tank focused on Colorado’s economy. Also contributing to this commentary: Liz Peetz, vice president of government affairs at the Colorado Association of Realtors; Chris Schmidt, Denver managing partner with Colorado Marketplace at Deloitte; Dave Davia, executive vice president and CEO with the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association; Scott Hughes, national director of Strategic Initiatives Group, Apple; Terry Stevinson, shareholder with Stevinson Group, and Roberta Robinette, president of AT&T, Colorado.

Denver Gazette – January 17, 2021
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