The Key to Regional Prosperity is Talent
Economic Development Council of Colorado (EDCC) hosted its Regional Economic Development Forum, the second in a series of forums held around the state in 2017, at the Ranch Event Center, in Loveland, CO.
Inspired by Region 2, Larimer and Weld Counties, this one-day forum highlighted the continued growth in northern Colorado, associated challenges facing our communities, and current strategies in place to address these challenges.
“Our economic development challenges are universal in both our urban and rural communities here in northern Colorado and across the state,” said Rich Werner, president and CEO of Upstate Colorado Economic Development. “Workforce stability, transportation funding, and associated growth are something we pay constant attention too. This forum provided important context into strategies to address some of these challenges.”
Colorado is forecast to increase from 1.7 percent of the US population to 2.1 percent by 2050. Most of that growth will be seen on the Front Range. Elizabeth Garner, Colorado’s state demographer, reported last Friday that Colorado’s labor force is changing. By 2030, Colorado’s 65 and older population will be 77 percent larger than it was in 2015. How does that affect the economy? “People over the age of 65 are starting to retire, they spend differently, and they buy different products and services,” Garner said. “This is a market that everybody needs to be looking at, especially in these two counties.” Garner challenged the audience by asking “have we thought about aging as a growth sector?” “How will this affect our retail, manufacturing, transportation or construction industries?”
So if our population is growing and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, then why is it so hard for employers to fill many open positions?
Nationally, 46 percent of companies report they are having trouble finding talent. This in large part is due to the lack of experience in the workplace as well as the lack of technical and workplace competencies required. Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) has been working to close this gap through a series of initiatives. “With the net migration increasing, if we don’t create diverse and emerging business centers around the state, we are going to have over population and congestion in areas that cannot afford it,” said Stephanie Copeland, OEDIT’s newly appointed executive director. “So we need to create communities that Coloradans want to be, have access to affordable housing, and a good job market.”
The key to regional prosperity is talent. Talent has a greater impact on regional prosperity than trade. Caroline Alexander, with Texas based consulting firm TIP Strategies, presented on a recent report commissioned by an economic development and workforce coalition in Larimer County. “Talent is the leading driver in today’s site selection decisions,” explained Alexander. “The availability of a skilled labor force has become more important than the cost of doing business.”
Out of this study an initiative has been created to address this challenge called Talent 2.0. The initiative will focus on the alignment of education and workforce resources more closely with the business community and the local talent pool; actively support employers in finding, attracting, and retaining the talent they need to succeed through the use of their sector partnerships, and collectively address structural issues that serve as barriers to secure a talent pipeline.
A barrier to accessing a talent pipeline in northern Colorado is transportation. Friday’s panel made up of local, state, and federal representatives presented on northern Colorado’s challenges to this growing statewide issue. With the continual increase in population growth along the Front Range and the absence of a reliable funding mechanism for transportation improvements, Larimer and Weld Counties are banding together to find that solution. “North I-25 is currently at a Level of Service D heading towards a Level of Service F by 2035,” David May, president and CEO of Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce stated, “which could mean our reality could be a three hour commute to Denver or DIA. We’ve got a real problem that needs to be solved.”
A two pronged strategy has been forged to help solve these issues. On the local level, Fix North I-25 (click to read more on Fix North I-25 goals). If they meet their adjectives, the changes could see an economic benefit of $1.1 billion form travel savings, lower vehicle operating cost, and more efficient business and freight logistics. Statewide, Fix Colorado Roads are looking to secure $3.5 million in bonding capacity, accelerate critical transportation projects throughout the state, and finding funding through both existing revenues and a new dedicated revenue source.
For more information on this event including speaker bios, presentations, and event photos, please visit www.edcconline.org.