The Colorado Chamber of Commerce unveiled a blueprint two years in the making on Wednesday that lays out a decade-long roadmap for improving the state’s business climate and warns that Colorado teeters on becoming unfriendly to free enterprise if changes aren’t made.
The Vision 2033 document, which chamber president/CEO Loren Furman will present at the business group’s annual meeting Thursday, lays out four focus areas: Workforce development, housing/cost of living, business climate and environmental sustainability. It cautions that talent shortages and increasing mandates on employers are making it harder to operate in this state but adds that Colorado’s natural and skilled-worker advantages offer a corridor forward if business and government can work more closely together.
“While we are sure that our state remains a great place to live, play, work and build a business, we think that complacency is a poor pathway to future prosperity,” reads the report, which was put together with national consultancy Economic Leadership LLC and launched with a Colorado Scorecard that tracks more than 60 data points on economic competitiveness. “Simply, if we want to maintain the state’s dynamism, preserve our quality of life and create opportunity for all our citizens in the next decade, we must identify and address our challenges — starting now.”
Origin of Vision 2033
Work on the blueprint began shortly after Furman became CEO in January 2022. The chamber undertook a competitive-landscape assessment last year, conducted surveys and interviews with more than 335 business leaders and undertook a barnstorming tour this spring in which it met with business and public-sector leaders throughout the state.
The overriding message that came from the research was that after more than a decade marked both by significant job growth and a significant increase in burdens on employers, Colorado needs a plan to ensure it doesn’t lose the competitive advantages it’s built, Furman said. And business leaders across the state need to work with government leaders and Coloradans of all stripes to implement this plan and be able to continue providing sustainable careers to the workers and state residents who rely on them, she said.
“Business leaders are tired of short-sighted policies that don’t address the real challenges facing our state,” Furman said. “They want future-focused solutions and leadership to position Colorado for sustained growth. Vision 2033 fills that void, establishing where we are, where we want to be and how we’ll get there.”
Troubling economic signs
Ted Abernathy, managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, laid out statistics during this year’s barnstorming tour that demonstrate Colorado’s precarious economic position. While the state was fifth in job growth, eighth in wage growth and fourth in GDP growth in the decade after 2011, it fell to 16th in job growth, 12th in wage growth and 22nd in GDP growth from 2020-21 as employers grappled simultaneously with pandemic challenges and increased regulations.
While Colorado still ranked second in workforce and sixth in innovation in Economic Leadership’s most recent national rankings, it fell to 21st in legal climate (a ranking in which it’s recorded continuous decline) and tied for 33rd in both economic strength and infrastructure. And CNBC mirrored the assessment in its most recent Top States for Business rankings, assessing it as No. 32 in economy, No. 35 for its cost of living and No. 38 for its cost of doing business and dropping it out of the top 10 states for the first time in rankings history.
“It does mean something’s changing in your state,” Abernathy told a crowd gathered in Pueblo in April.
Barnstorming tour participants offered myriad issues that they see daily as hurting their ability to do business. Regulations limit their ability to put resources toward hiring, housing costs make it hard to attract workers, a lack of childcare has kept too many women out of the workforce, potential workers aren’t bringing needed skills to jobs and public safety is an increasing concern, many said.
Vision 2033 focuses
As such, Vision 2033 identifies four priority areas on which the chamber will seek to work with public- and private-sector leaders to make improvements:
- Workforce Development
The Education to Employment Alliance, a newly formed coalition that includes the chamber, issued a report last week citing how talent-development gaps have created a skills mismatch between workers and employers and offering five recommendations to close those gaps. Vision 2033 echoes those goals, emphasizing the need to create career pathways for in-demand job sectors and to boost apprenticeship and upskilling opportunities while measuring outcomes of education and training programs.
- Housing and Cost of Living
The chamber will seek to identify legislative ideas to incentivize affordable housing, create partnerships between employers and communities to boost housing stock and develop a statewide home ownership initiative to attract young college graduates to remain in or relocate to Colorado. It also will seek to strengthen incentives to offer on-site or subsidized childcare, and it will remind government officials of the added regulatory costs of home construction and childcare centers that inhibit their supply.
- Business Climate
The chamber will conduct research and communicate its findings on both the effectiveness and business burden of environmental and employment laws enacted over the past 10 years and will research national best practices to improve business climate. It also unveiled plans in Vision 2033 to establish both a legal-reform alliance and a technology alliance to maintain economic competitiveness and impact legislation that deals with those areas.
- Environmental Sustainability
The chamber launched an Environmental Sustainability & Climate Action Task Force earlier this year to create proactive sustainability policies while balancing climate goals with the economic impact on business. Among the goals of the task force and the business organization will be to address the current permitting backlog and to reduce the total volume of regulations while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Assessing the state
Key to achieving these goals will be the Colorado Scorecard, which compiles national rankings in areas ranging from business climate to quality of life to civic engagement and uses them as an indication of the state’s progress or backsliding. The scorecard is available at https://cochamber.com/scorecard/.
“Colorado is at an important crossroads,” Abernathy concluded. “Our analysis shows the state economy is strong, but there are serious warning signs threatening future growth. If business leaders and lawmakers take the right actions now, Colorado will be well positioned to adapt, becoming a top state for business as the global and national economy continues to evolve.”