This year’s long-anticipated Boulder Economic Summit was electric, abuzz with riveting discussions about Boulder’s workforce and the future of Boulder.
What propels Boulder to the “best of the best” and top rankings list for so many positive indicators for the business climate and the local economy? People. It’s talent that is a dynamic force behind the innovation and success of so many Boulder-based businesses. A highly educated, professional, creative and tech/research class in Boulder is transforming the city into a hotbed of tech startups and groundbreaking businesses.
Organized by the Boulder Economic Council and the Boulder Chamber of Commerce and held in the newly remodeled Glenn Miller Ballroom at CU-Boulder, last month’s Boulder Economic Summit — themed the “talent-driven economy” — attracted speakers from top companies including Google, Rally Software, Zayo Group, SolidFire, Boulder Brands, Ball Aerospace, and Sphero as well as schools such as CU-Boulder, Front Range Community College, and Boulder Valley Schools. They shared their insights into educating, cultivating, and retaining talent. Main sponsors included CU-Boulder, Elevations Credit Union, and First National Denver.
President and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce John Tayer remarks, “As the economic development arm of the Boulder Chamber, the Boulder Economic Council works to
make sure its membership and the broader community are apprised of the trends that impact our economy. The quality of Boulder’s workforce is regularly highlighted as a key distinguishing feature that attracts primary businesses to Boulder, across a wide spectrum of industries. This year’s summit helped to shine a light on the qualities that draw such a talented workforce to our community and the strategies for maintaining our leading edge in that area.”
Executive Director of the Boulder Economic Council Clif Harald commenced with opening remarks and introduced CU-Boulder Chancellor Dr. Philip DiStefano. DiStefano discussed the ways in which CU-Boulder is preparing students for the workforce by educating them to be well-rounded, creative and critical thinkers and problem solvers with entrepreneurial mindsets who are adaptable, resilient, and can operate in a global economy.
But where is Boulder headed? This was the broader, overarching question of the day.
Dr. Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the business research division and senior associate dean of the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder, discussed his research into the future direction of Boulder’s demographics and economy. Boulder has a lower unemployment rate than the state of Colorado or the nation, but can expect an upcoming and significant demographic shift because a sizable proportion of the population of Boulder is Baby Boomers and they will be retiring in the next 15 years. This will lead to a smaller workforce in Boulder, and a strong flow of labor will be necessary for the city to remain economically vibrant.
Boulder residents also have a very high level of educational attainment as compared nationally — 75% have a college degree or higher — and high real estate prices are pushing the commuting range outwards towards Denver, which is becoming a fast-growing commuting location for Boulder.
These challenges for Boulder will be compounded by the nationwide trend of retiring Baby Boomers, which will lead to a shortage of labor around the country. Boulder will be competing with other cities such as Austin, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Portland, and San Diego, for example — which are also leveraging the dynamism and synergy of the creative class — to attract a smaller pool of younger workers nationwide. Boulder, therefore, will need to develop more talent locally and within Colorado.
As Boulder Economic Council’s Executive Director Clif Harald notes, “We focused this year’s Economic Summit on talent because Boulder is a highly desirable place to live that attracts talent of all ages, education, skills and experience. Boulder’s workforce — and our attractiveness in employee recruitment and retention — is consistently cited by companies as one of our greatest competitive advantages.”
For another perspective on the issue, speaker Kendra Prospero, Owner of Turning the Corner LLC, an HR support and recruiting company, who has helped over 1,000 job seekers discover work they love, discussed employee engagement and retention. She pointed to recent survey results from Gallup and Pew that unhappy workers outrank happy ones two to one and that ¾ of all employees are actively disengaged and spend 10 hours per week not working. Employees tend to be discontent because their jobs do not fit their strengths, values, or lifestyles — and unhappy workers cost companies profits due to what she calls the “engagement inefficiency.”
Prospero offered companies hope by suggesting that they build a strengths-based culture and working environment that could potentially include “flexibilized” jobs that fit employees’ schedules and lifestyles with flexible work hours and job shares. According to Prospero, internships, apprenticeships, and boot camps will also become more important.
Most importantly, Prospero emphasized that Boulder can be a catalyst for the country by positioning itself on the leading cusp of a “people revolution” that recognizes that people are the most important asset of any business.
These remarks were followed by networking and breakout panel sessions on topics including:
–Building the Talent Pipeline – with Workforce Boulder County, CU-Boulder Leeds School of Business, Boulder Valley School District, Ball Aerospace, Front Range Community College, and Galvanize
–Attracting Talent – City of Boulder, Boulder Brands, SolidFire, CU-Boulder, Vertiba
–Anticipating Talent Needs – Boulder Community Health Foundation, Google, Sphero, Zayo Group, and CU-Boulder
–Engaging Your Talent – Turning the Corner, RoundPegg, Rally Software, miRagenTherapeutics
The closing plenary, entitled “Creative Practices in Talent Attraction and Engagement,” sparked a fascinating dialogue facilitated by Frances Draper, Vice Chancellor of Strategic Relations for CU-Boulder between speakers from Google, Sphero, Zayo Group, Boulder Brands, and Turning the Corner LLC.
Above all the annual Boulder Economic Summit is a preeminent opportunity for Boulder business leaders and the business community to come together and motivate each through shared ideas and collaborative approaches that will mobilize and inspire Boulder’s continued economic dynamism.
Upcoming Boulder Chamber of Commerce events:
July 15 – Business After Hours with Boulder County Farmers Market
July 21 – Social Media Made Simple
July 22 – Bolder Young Professionals Happy Hour
Aug 5 – Women’s Night of Networking Summer Soiree at CAC BOULDER
Aug 12 – BWLG – Networking Breakfast at YWCA
Aug 12 – Selling for Nonprofits
Aug 19 – Business on the Rooftop
Aug 21 – 27th Annual CU Buffs Kick Off Lunch
Boulder Economic Council: http://bouldereconomiccouncil.org/about-the-bec/
Boulder Chamber of Commerce: http://boulderchamber.com/