Colorado’s dependence on the extraction industries for its economic well-being has put long-time residents through a historical roller coaster ride of boom and bust cycles. Those days may finally be behind the state with low unemployment rates, some of the fastest growing companies in the country and a diversified set of industries drawn to the state. Now the state’s largest employers are from the Aviation, Healthcare, Telecommunications and Financial Services industries. The new mix of companies has provided sustained growth and an economic engine that keeps Colorado near the top of the class.
US News and World Report lists Colorado in the top ten states for percentage of residents employed. Neighboring states Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming also make that list. The periodical lists Colorado as having the second most job growth in the country and among the best suited for the ‘new economy’. Factors taken into consideration include growth of companies, a highly educated workforce and the number of inventor patents held by companies in the state.
Colorado’s business growth is reflected by, and aided by, the expansion of the number of Fortune 500 firms headquartered in the state. Currently 10 Fortune 500 companies call Colorado home including Ball, CH2M, and DaVita. The companies fall into 6 categories – Telecommunications (3), Advanced Manufacturing (2), Healthcare (2) Energy (1), Financial Services (1), and Infrastructure Engineering (1). The largest company in Colorado is Arrow Electronics listed at number 118.
Last week, Governor John Hickenlooper and Denver Director of Economic Development, Eric Hiraga cut the ribbon announcing that Strava, a company operating a GPS tracking app for athletes, would open its third US office in Denver. The move will create nearly 100 new jobs in the realm of athletics and fitness, a continuously growing industry in Colorado. In a press announcement, Hiraga said, “We’re proud to welcome Strava to Denver’s fast-growing roster of innovative firms. This is a great addition for Denver’s IT and active lifestyle sectors, while supporting job creation.”
The announcement continued Colorado’s success in marketing the state’s outdoor lifestyle. The same week of the Strava announcement, Denver played host for the first time to the Outdoor Retailer winter trade show at the Colorado Convention Center. The winter edition is held in January and the summer event will be held in June. The contract with Outdoor Retailer is in place for five years. The winter show is expected to bring in anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 attendees and the events are tagged to generate over $110 million a year in revenue for the local hospitality industry. Salt Lake was home to the trade show for 22 years and organizers decided to find a new venue because of policy differences with Utah politicians over the importance of preserving public lands.
Luring the Outdoor Retailer trade show to the state strengthens the brand by meeting three of Colorado’s 15 target industries - Health and Wellness, Outdoor Recreation, and Tourism. Hickenlooper referenced Blueprint Colorado in his recent State of the State address. That planning and implementation document in 2017 featured eight focus areas for the year, including outdoor recreation and tourism development. The state focus in these areas is driving results. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that 229,000 Colorado jobs are due to outdoor activities and total spent on those activities is $28 billion.
Outdoor recreation has helped to buoy tourism spending in Colorado. 2016 marked the sixth consecutive year that records were set in total tourism expenditures - 82 million tourists visited Colorado, spending $20 billion and generating $1.2 billion in tax revenue. Nearly two-thirds of visitors stayed overnight. According to the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO), 165,000 jobs are maintained due to tourism.
In a summer 2017 press release, CTO reported findings from an industry study showing 15 percent of Colorado tourists engaged in ‘marijuana related activities’ and that 5 percent listed the activity as a motivating factor for the trip.
Cannabis Revenue in Colorado
To the chagrin of many Colorado politicians, cannabis was legalized by voters through Amendment 64 in November 2012. Since first sales in January 2014, annual sales continue to break records. To date, Colorado has sold $4.4 billion of legal cannabis. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, 2017 sales results are predicted to hit $1.5 billion, well more than double first year sales.
Mass growers have leased substantial warehouse space across the state, multiple kitchens have been set up to produce edibles and numerous retail shops have popped up in cities that allow the sale of cannabis. In 2017, the state collected $247 million in tax revenue, an increase of $54 million from the previous year.
The Marijuana Policy Group studied the economic impact of cannabis on the state’s economy for 2015. They reported that the industry created just over 18,000 jobs in that year.
Colorado ranks 7th in the US in terms of total energy production. In this year’s State of the State address, Hickenlooper called to increase the amount of energy produced from renewable sources and an increase in jobs associated with the industry. As of 2016, the industry employed 26,270 in Colorado, and ranked ninth among states for renewable energy employment, according to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. Three percent of the country’s renewable jobs are in Colorado.
According to industry tracker, US Energy Information Administration (EIA), part of the Department of Energy, electricity generated from renewable means reached 20 percent in 2016. By far, wind power accounts for the largest contribution to energy production. Though a small part of the state’s renewable production, the amount of solar electricity continues to grow. In 2016, Colorado ranked 11th for solar generated electricity. EIA noted that 12 states produced 80 percent of all wind power created in the United States, Colorado among them.
Political conditions seem right for continued job growth in the renewables sector. In 2004, Coloradans voted to require renewable sources for utilities. The Colorado legislature has increased those requirements since. The Department of Energy’s, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Colorado’s foothills, focuses on developing the renewable sector. Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter created the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University to champion the industry.