Business leaders convene on future
That was my takeaway from the inaugural Business Impact Roundtable, presented June 14 at Level 3 Communications Inc.’s campus in Broomfield. The gathering, presented by the Boulder Chamber and Impact on Education, was designed to determine what it would take to secure business support for additional investment in public education.
But remarks by 20-plus leaders in the business, higher education, nonprofit and political sectors focused as much on other challenges and opportunities faced by business as they did on education itself. Business leaders hailed from aerospace, technology, finance, clean tech, professional services, hospitality and other sectors.
Tom Clark, chief executive of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., provided an introductory snapshot of where Colorado stands in relation to other states. Clark ticked off a myriad of positive economic statistics on entrepreneurial activity, patent filings, venture capital, Small Business Innovation Research funding, high-tech employment and other areas.
Negatives included transportation, with more than half of roads in poor condition; high local tax burdens vs. low state tax burdens; and relatively high housing prices.
A discussion of Colorado’s top industry clusters revealed some headwinds faced by these sectors, including clean tech (facing a potential loss of tax credits). Aerospace faces federal budget cuts but a burgeoning of private-sector companies.
One big advantage for Colorado is that its major clusters are so diverse, ranging from aerospace to clean tech, health care to natural products. That’s a far cry from a few decades ago, when a downturn in one sector, such as energy, could throw the state’s economy into a tailspin.
One common theme was the difficulty in finding skilled workers. “We’re constantly looking for talent,” one industry leader observed. “As industry, we’re looking for skills that are ready to go when a candidate hits the street.”
Concerns were also expressed about years of cuts to higher education. Institutions such as the University of Colorado represent huge drivers for the state’s economy, but cuts to those institutions cannot be sustained forever, one participant noted, referring to universities’ needs to balance budgets, while also expanding and engaging in capital improvements.
One participant pointed to the “elephant in the room,” namely the convergence of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment. Both constitutional amendments combine to restrain governmental spending, with Gallagher shifting a hefty property-tax burden to business.
Attempts to change either amendment consistently have faltered at the state level.
“There hasn’t been a business case made,” one participant said.
The size of this forum provided a perfect opportunity for local leaders to address the issues of the day. Here’s hoping that this forum continues, and more business leaders become engaged, not only in the Boulder Valley but also throughout the state.
Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-440-4950 or via email at email@example.com.
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