By Jack Rogers
From the November/December 2020 Issue
Colorado is a state with two distinct regions, Western Colorado and Eastern Colorado (think Northern and Southern California] and four distinct seasons, including the longest ski-snow season in the continental U.S.
The Rocky Mountain State has even more diversity in its established and emerging growth sectors: Colorado is an energy superpower among states when it comes to fossil fuels, on par with its neighbors north and south. Colorado also is one of the nation’s leading tourist destination. But if you think towering ski slopes and oil wells are all there is to Colorado, think again.
Under the leadership of Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado is charting a bold path forward in the new frontiers of the 21st century. In an exclusive Governor’s Report interview with Business Facilities, Polis told us he is positioning Colorado as a national leader in the emerging clean-energy economy and in red-hot growth sectors like cybersecurity.
MAPPING THE ROAD TO RECOVERY
When the pandemic arrived in Colorado in March, Gov. Polis formed the Governor’s Council on Economic Stabilization and Growth (CESG) to measure the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on CO and to make recommendations for recovery.
Polis’ decision to convene a group that spanned multiple industries and different regions across the state resulted in a broad range of recommendations to aid distressed industries, including measures to cut red tape to support modified business models, support for rent and mortgage relief and improved access to federal relief programs.
Several pieces of legislation passed as a result of the CESC, including the CLIMBER Fund, leveraging up to $250 million to provide capital for loans for small businesses over the next two years and preserve thousands of at-risk jobs across CO. The Fund gives preference to minority, women and veteran-owned businesses. The CLIMBER Fund is scheduled for a December launch and aims to provide loans averaging $100k to 2-3,000 small to medium-sized businesses.
Colorado is augmenting federal pandemic relief funds to support small and Main Street businesses with the CLIMBER Fund and a $25 million Energize Colorado Gap Fund, which Polis told us is prioritized to give access to underserved areas of the state.
“The Gap Fund provides priority, but not exclusive, access to Colorado’s underserved and underrepresented. That includes small business grants and loans for Colorado’s women-owned, minority-owned and veteran-owned and rural businesses,” the governor said.
Polis said that, to date, $6.7 million has been awarded to 547 businesses, 99 percent of which fall into a priority businesses category.
BUILDING A CLEAN-ENERGY ECONOMY
Colorado was the first state to pass a voter-approved renewable energy standard. Several states have recently set a target of 2050 for net zero emissions, but Gov. Polis is aiming for Colorado to reach that target sooner.
“My administration is committed to achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and is positioning Colorado as a leader in the clean energy economy, Polis said. “We recently released a public discussion draft of our Greenhouse Gas Pollution Reduction Roadmap, focused on outlining strategies that will ensure we progress towards our science-based, economy-wide emissions reductions goals between now and 2050.”
Polis said the Rocky Mountain State already is feeling the impact of climate change. “Colorado just experienced the three largest wildfires in our state’s history, and that’s just one of countless indicators that climate change presents an increasing threat to our economy and our way of life,” he told BF.
“From day one, my administration has prioritized a swift transition to renewable energy and bold climate action, and this Roadmap is a significant step forward to continue to reduce pollution for the benefit of the health and well-being of our communities and our economy. We’ve taken historic steps towards our goals, and this Roadmap will help guide the critical efforts necessary to reap the full benefits of boldly and equitably transitioning to a clean energy economy,” Polis said.
When BF interviewed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, he told us that the Beehive State is investing in snow-making machines to compensate for the loss of natural snow cover at its ski resorts due to climate change. We asked Gov. Polis if CO is taking the same precautions as its western neighbor.
“Our ski industry in particular has been attuned to the challenges of climate change. The dual realities of low-snow years and the need to meet expectations of ski pass-holders has made snow-making and grooming standard practice at many Colorado resorts for years. Resorts like Arapahoe Basin benefit from man-made snow by being among the first resorts in the nation to open,” the governor said.
Polis added that ski resorts in CO also have found opportunities in expanding offerings into the summer season and in innovating summer mountain resort activities, first at Vail and then at Breckenridge, and other ski companies have followed suit.
Year-round activities like mountain-biking, zip-lines and adventure facilities have become central to CO’s recreation economies in resort communities, he said.
“Expansion of summer mountain offerings was a great way to capitalize on the summer tourism season and to ensure the industry segment’s long-term viability, Polis noted.
The Fitzsimons Life Science District and the adjacent Anschutz Medical campus in Aurora, CO offer six million square feet of space on 578 acres, one of the fastest growing medical/bioscience facilities in the U.S. Gov. Polis told us that he anticipates that Colorado’s bioscience and healthcare sectors will be major growth sectors in CO in the wake of the pandemic.
“The Fitzsimons Innovation Community is a great example of why Colorado’s bioscience and healthcare industries have seen such great success and are poised for significant growth in the near future,” Polis said.
The life science cluster that has developed around Fitzsimons and the Anschutz Medical campus represents a unique model of collaboration between academic and research institutions, private industry, healthcare providers and patients, he said.
“The clustering of these entities has allowed our bioscience industry to create new, innovative technologies; test them in a robust and safe manner; and bring them to market at a faster pace than companies can in other markets without such density and diversity,” Polis explained.
He added, “the density and diversity within the industry that we’ve built across the region and state has increased our job creation by 34 percent from 2010-2019, and allowed us to attract globally positioned bioscience companies to the state and build a positive business environment for companies already based in Colorado to continue growing. This density, along with the availability of bioscience-specific space in Fitzsimons and throughout the region, have created a foundation on which Colorado’s Bioscience industry is bound to grow.”
BUILDING A STEM-SMART WORKFORCE
We asked Gov. Polis if Colorado’s university system is producing enough grads with STEM skills to support emerging growth sectors like cybersecurity.
“Colorado is home to more than 30 research labs and institutions, producing some of the brightest minds and ideas especially in STEM,” Polis told BF. “Our institutions work to educate and train Coloradans from entry level roles to executive positions, using innovative models to help ensure higher education is meeting the needs of the state’s economy.”
The governor noted that Colorado’s workforce is highly educated, with 39 percent having at least a bachelor’s degree, the second highest percentage in the nation. Among all public and private institutions in Colorado, there are more than 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in federally-recognized STEM fields., including cybersecurity and cybercrime investigation.
We asked Gov. Polis which perception of Colorado he would like to change. “If I could change one perception about Colorado, it is the misperception that businesses in coastal locations somehow possess an operational advantage,” he responded. “It’s simply not the case. Colorado’s proximity is a distinct competitive advantage. All domestic markets are accessible within a few hours and Colorado’s central location enables same day communication with key global destinations. With world-class colleges and universities across the state, Colorado offers employers an exceptional pool of talent that is eager to continue enjoying Colorado’s quality of life.”
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