Brainstormers create ‘Road to Recovery’

Infrastructure investment may be steepest hill in plan to bring state back from doldrums

Joey Bunch
The Denver Gazette
Posted 12/16/20

Some of the state’s best business minds collaborated on a way to get Colorado out of the economic mess it’s in and presented in a report that came out Dec. 10. You can read the “Road to …

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Brainstormers create ‘Road to Recovery’

Infrastructure investment may be steepest hill in plan to bring state back from doldrums

Posted

Some of the state’s best business minds collaborated on a way to get Colorado out of the economic mess it’s in and presented in a report that came out Dec. 10.

You can read the “Road to Recovery” at www.roadtorecoverycolorado.org

The way forward has three parts, according to the business leaders:

1. Prioritize Colorado’s competitiveness agenda.

2. Reimagine tomorrow’s workforce.

3. Invest in “future-forward” infrastructure.

The project collected the skill, insights and hard data from 30 business leaders affiliated with the Colorado Business Roundtable and the economists and supporters of the Common Sense Institute think tank in Denver.

The work is expected to continue for a couple of years involving more business leaders as the recovery progresses, said Debbie Brown, the president of Colorado Business Roundtable.

It’s not all bad news, but it’s not very good, either. Colorado had one of the best economies in the country — for labor and business climate — and that’s something good to build on, but since then the state has lost 125,000 jobs and slipped a little from its high rankings.

The economic road map is, ideally, a fast lane to get back there with a skilled workforce, adequate infrastructure and a regulatory scheme that promotes trade instead of restricting it, business leaders said Dec. 10, spelling out the pillars of their plan.

“Colorado starts with such a great economic climate before COVID, and we’ve got a feisty collaborative spirit of Coloradans who want to lean in and try to work together to make Colorado as big of a success, if not bigger, coming out it,” Brown said. “We believe that within disruption there certainly is an opportunity — an opportunity to protect and influence our economic success and ensure sustainable and long-term economic growth.”

Colorado has problems

On the other hand, many of the problems that bedeviled Colorado before have been aggravated by the pandemic, particularly housing and child care costs, the eighth-highest in the country at more than $1,300 a month, said Liz Peetz of the Colorado Association of Realtors.

“Both of these issues are at a tipping point, and housing and child care are workforce issues as much as they are important issues to Coloradans,” she said. “And the reason you’re seeing us focus on those is we think we can make a difference, looking at things like expediting permits or creative uses of property.

“We have the opportunity to look at those areas with an eye toward innovation.”

Maximizing Colorado’s competitive edge, however, depends on sustainable economic growth, which requires a regulatory balance and support for fiscal policies that promote innovation, job attraction and retention, the business terrain road map states.

“Technology is evolving jobs at a pace faster today than ever before,” said Dave Davia, executive vice president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association.

As a result, “the workforce is morphing.” Higher education does a good job, Davia said, “but we believe there’s a gap.”

His committee, with bureaucrats and businesses, worked on recommendations, including apprenticeships and skilled vocational training, other than an expensive four-year degree.

The business leaders believed the state should preserve its flat tax on individual and corporate rates.

To get the state’s general workforce ready for future job opportunities, meanwhile, requires modernizing training and embracing technology. The road map calls for strengthening post-secondary education for young and older members of workforce to attain fulfilling, sustainable careers.

And perhaps the thorniest of all in trying budget times: that future-forward infrastructure system. Doing that, however, unleashes Colorado’s long-term potential to compete, according to the “Road to Recovery.”

Roberta Robinette, the president of AT&T Colorado, noted that conversations about the needs and how to pay for them have been around for years, but the virus made Coloradans more acutely aware of the need for broadband internet, both accessibility and home capacity.

Terry Stevinson, a shareholder and family namesake of the Stevinson Group of car dealerships, said transportation remains a critical question that raises two more: Where does the money come from and how does the state sustain it to modernize roads, bridges and other transportation?

It’s way more complicated than that.

“A multilayered infrastructure that includes education, communication, energy, water, land use, mobility, technology, human safety, services and the environment are all part of our community’s foundation,” he said. “Each is important in its own right, but each is essential to the overall group. If we overemphasize one over another we jeopardize the whole structure.”

Product of many minds

Thirty business leaders worked on it with the Colorado Business Roundtable, the association of executives across many industries and public services, and the economists with the Common Sense Institute think tank.

The report’s co-chairs were Brown; Peetz; Davia; Stevinson; Robinette; Kristin Strohm of the Common Sense Institute; Scott Hughes of Apple; and Chris Schmidt of Deloitte.

Strohm said the plan took six months to research, and compile. She thanked the executives for the work they put in assisting the institute’s economists with metrics and recommendations.

She said Colorado’s status as one of the best economies and business climates in the nation is being challenged, and business leaders are rising to it. This year 1 in 5 Coloradans has filed for some form of unemployment benefits. As of October, Colorado has 125,000 fewer jobs, disproportionately affecting women with children, Strohm said.

Colorado is well-poised to recover, compared to other states, but the worst could still be ahead, Strohm said.

“The COVID crisis is far from over, and as Coloradans we know that good isn’t good enough,” she said. “How do we protect Colorado’s business-friendly environment, meet Colorado’s workforce demands and improve our infrastructure — and come out of the pandemic stronger than ever?”

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