Colorado has the nation’s second-most-educated workforce, the third-highest labor participation, a growing economy and an abundance of natural assets to draw workers and companies alike.
“But we can’t be complacent,” said J.J. Ament, the former CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. and the new president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
That’s why the Economic Development Corporation was determined to find the “secret sauce” that would distinguish metro Denver from other major metro areas striving to regain ground lost during the pandemic and expand. Even before the pandemic and ensuing recession in 2020, the EDC was working on a recipe to attract companies and workers alike.
The finished product, unveiled Friday, is “The Elevation Effect.” The logo, three mountain peaks, and accompanying marketing strategies were designed as a regional branding initiative to capitalize on what the EDC believes sets the Denver area apart: its workforce.
An analysis by the Myers-Briggs Co., known for its personality assessments, produced the workforce profile that shaped the initiative, said Amy Guttmann, the EDC’s director of marketing and brand strategy.
Metro-Denver workers are aspirational, collaborative, creative, supportive, they set big goals and need to work with others around a shared vision, according to patterns Myers-Briggs found. The company looked at about 30,000 personality assessments previously taken by people in the nine-county metro area.
Information from the assessments were anonymous.
“We asked Myers-Briggs to help us figure out what we could talk about to companies beyond the idea that we’re the second most highly educated workforce in America (behind Massachusetts),” Guttmann said. “That is a great selling point we talk about it all the time, but one of the things we know is that companies are focused on more than mere educational credentials.”
Companies want to know workers’ “soft skills,” their digital skills and who they are as people, Guttmann added.
When the EDC reviewed business pitches made by 16 other metro areas, Guttmann said it found a “sea of sameness.” The analysis showed that economic development corporations sell their areas as good places to work, live and play or as the next high-tech hub.
“We wanted to figure out how to talk about Denver in a way that breaks out of that sort of one-note, cookie-cutter story line,” Guttmann said. “What we can say is that we are wired as a business community and as a workforce to never settle. We work really hard to go after what we want.”
The staff named what it saw as the metro area’s distinguishing characteristics “The Elevation Effect,” alluding to an attitude as well as the mountains and other natural assets that attract people seeking a good quality of life.
Ament, who headed the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s economic development arm the past four-and-a-half years, said the focus on workforce is important. He said the conventional wisdom used to be that workers went to where the jobs are.
“But I think it’s flipped,” Ament said. “Post 9/11, I think it started. Post the Great Recession, I think it accelerated. And I think it really took off (during) COVID.
“Talented and skilled workers, degreed or not, take a different assessment of how they want to live their life,” Ament added, “and that benefits Colorado and metro Denver because we’re a place where talented and skilled workers, degreed or not, want to be.”
Ament said the companies that want access to a talented workforce need to move to where those people are. He said the work the EDC staff has done on the new branding gives the region at least a two years’ head start on building back from the pandemic-related economic downturn.
Even during the pandemic, the metro area added jobs, Ament said. A report by the EDC shows that five of the nine industry groups the organization works with reported new jobs in 2020. Those include aerospace, which grew 11.2%; financial services, 1.1%; and information technology-software, 8.9%.
“We weathered that storm about as well as you could hope for,” Ament said. “That is not to say that there weren’t folks in our community that were severely dislocated and distressed.”
The EDC report shows that energy and natural resources contracted 4.6%. About 45% of the jobs lost were in leisure and hospitality and roughly 80% of the total jobs lost were in low-wage sectors, according to the report. Ament said women and people of color were disproportionately affected.
The chamber of commerce has initiatives and teams working to help displaced or struggling workers, Guttmann said. Those include programs for veterans, small business development and leadership training.
Metro Denver business leaders sponsored a breakfast and panel discussion Friday with a team of site selectors, people from large real estate and professional services firms that consult with corporations on places to expand or relocate.
“One of the fun things is the Friday morning breakfast,” Ament said. “It’s a chance for our community to hear from professionals who don’t necessarily have a dog in the hunt to say what is great about us and where we need some improvement.”
Labor shortages and high housing prices are two areas Ament hears a lot about from business people. Employers across the spectrum say they have more jobs than they can fill.
The Denver area’s high housing prices put the region at a disadvantage with some of its competitors, Ament said. “It’s not just an issue for us trying to recruit companies from somewhere else. How do we get companies that are already here to stay and grow here when their own folks, particularly entry-level folks who are building careers, can’t get into entry-level housing?”
Even the draw of the built-in, natural assets has its limits when the outdoors can’t be enjoyed because of crowded mountain trails or wildfire smoke and smog obscuring mountain views and making outdoor activities unhealthy at times.
Business groups, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, opposed a state program that would have required large employers to incentivize workers to reduce car travel to and from work. They said it should be voluntary.
State health officials recently withdrew the plan.
Ament said Denver’s air quality has long been a priority for the Denver chamber.
“We were instrumental in establishing the Regional Air Quality Council in 1989 and continue to participate in the council’s work,” Ament said. “The chamber encourages members to take actions to improve air quality in ways that work best for their employees and companies.”
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