By Brad Segal, published in the Denver Business Journal, Sept 22, 2017
In pursuing Amazon’s HQ2, the holy grail of economic development, Denver finds itself in a most unlikely position – a favorite. The irony is most appreciated by those of us that have been involved in the evolution of this city since the 1980s. Then an economic basket case, metro Denver has since invested billions in civic improvement projects and successfully diversified our economy to become a globally relevant city. Today, the key to attracting Amazon is to continue our pattern of investing in ourselves, and avoid the temptation to shower incentives on a firm that doesn’t need them.
Here are four key points leading to Denver’s winning strategy to lure Amazon’s second headquarters and it’s 50,000 jobs:
1. Acknowledge we’re already in the top tier of logical cities. A recent New York Times analysis provided an initial screen of more than 50 eligible metros throughout the nation, and found Denver to be the Number One choice. Our fundamentals match nicely with Amazon’s needs, including quality of life, tech-savvy educated workforce, mobility options and a welcoming culture. Given our fundamentals, we can compete from a position of strength and focus more on an innovative pitch.
2. Avoid the temptation to lard incentives. Other regions that don’t share our fundamentals and particularly those with a tradition of spending lucrative incentives to attract companies (i.e. Texas, Southeast), will throw the kitchen sink at this “deal of the century”. Expect eye-popping pitches in the billions of dollars as states and regions rob their futures to subsidize Amazon. Colorado doesn’t need to do this, and our state has a track record of providing more measured incentives when compared to peers. However, we’re not beyond the occasional ridiculous subsidy (i.e. remember the $380 million gift Aurora crafted for the notorious Gaylord project now rising out of the plains near DIA?). Not only is a huge subsidy unnecessary (remember we have fundamentals), but this could actually work against us. Why, Amazon may wonder, do these communities mortgage their futures to subsidize our present?
3. Offer a standard array of property development carrots. It would be fair game to utilize Colorado’s property development incentive tool kit, particularly if Amazon chose a site for its campus that is truly blighted or requires substantial infrastructure. Tax increment financing and special districts are effective here, and offer a competitive advantage over other states. We should be mindful to not give away the store and negotiate revenue-sharing agreements so that Amazon doesn’t completely syphon future revenues from schools and other essential public services.
4. Invest in ourselves. Instead throwing needless incentives at Amazon, metro Denver should use this opportunity to invest in the infrastructure that supports our continued economic vitality. Let’s go big on affordable housing, education and transportation – the civic infrastructure that is required to absorb Amazon’s giant scale, and to ensure that everyone in our community will benefit.
The groundwork has already laid to create a “surge” in civic investment. Denver is creating a new housing plan, and affordable housing advocates are urging the city to support a housing bond that could create $150 to $300 million. This scale of investment could help stabilize existing neighborhoods in advance of Amazon’s arrival, and help preserve a diversity of housing types to support our growing jobs base.
On transportation, if the state can’t agree on a boost in funding for roads, transit and other mobility options, then the metro region should pursue it alone.
More resources for education may be more challenging and would require us all to step up on both a local and state level. Our focus should be on the full continuum of education options, from pre-school to graduate education. Let’s use the Amazon challenge to break Colorado’s grip on having one of the lowest per-pupil funding legacies in the nation.
By investing in ourselves and building upon a 30-year pattern of civic investment, we’ll demonstrate to Amazon that we’re not only preparing for the long-term economic vitality of our region, but also protecting the culture and values that are attracting them here in the first place. In addition, the upside of this strategy is we’re better off with or without Amazon. We will have invested in strengthening an opportunity infrastructure that will keep our economy robust for generations to come.
Recently, I attended a webinar from the University of Illinois Extension which presented some strategies for attracting and retaining millennial-aged folks to rural communities. Whether in Illinois or Colorado, it is clear that populations in rural areas are aging and the presence of millennials is essential to carry on the legacy of these communities. Almost a quarter of millennials surveyed said they want to live in small towns however there are some essential factors that influence many millennials when deciding to move to a small community and these strategies address some of those factors.
(1) High Speed Internet: Millennials value the ability to communicate far and wide. Whether they are running an online business or attending online classes.
(2) Invest in Youth Priorities: Ask them what they want. These desires might include “third spaces”; spaces outside of work and home i.e. breweries, cafes, board game bars. Millennials value social interaction in news ways outside of the quintessential ‘rural’ bar.
(3) Provide Economic Opportunities Through Entrepreneurship: Millennials actually value living in communities that support their local businesses. The kinds of opportunities communities have to show this collaborative spirit are: public markets, shared work spaces, Buy Local Campaigns, marketing assistance, business competitions, etc.
(4) Actively Engage and Consult Youth: Make sure they know their ideas and opinions matter. This can be done through surveys and focus groups. Here is a survey template from the UI Extension as an example.
(5) Density: Millennials prize a traditional town center, a walkable neighborhood, and even living in the downtown area in lofts above businesses. Believe it or not, millennials want to engage with local businesses and be in a lively environment full of life that downtown main street and dense communities provide.
If you would like to learn more about attracting customers to your businesses, including millennials, check out our Business Bootcamp in Castle Rock on October 23rd
DCI recently attended an event at Denver Startup Week about “Impact Investing Through a Creativity Lens”. The panelists included Laura Callanan, Upstart Co-Lab // Corey Vernon, Radicle Impact // Alice Loy, Creative Startups // Anne Misak, Colorado Enterprise Fund.
What is Impact Investing? What does viewing it through a lens mean?
Impact Investing is a form of investing that means making money while doing good. It does not mean a grant or charity. It is a real investment made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.
Lenses are used to shape how we view something and, in this case, where we choose to invest our money. Impact Investing through a Creativity Lens is investing in creative ideas whether it is art that has a social impact (ex: Meow Wolf), food that redefines the food system (ex: MMLocal), or fashion that takes ethics seriously (ex: Zady). Whatever the idea is, impact investing is a great way for creative ideas to take off.
Creativity is essential to solve complex problems and brings new and diverse ideas to the solution. This ‘cognitive diversity’ means that everyone that has different ways of thinking about issues and the different approaches come to together to create a solution that a homogenous group could have never come up with.
If you would like to learn more about what the panelists are doing, click their websites linked above. If you would like to learn more about how your business can creatively enhance your customers’ experience come to our event in Castle Rock on October 23rd.
DCI is gearing up this month for events in October, November, and of course our Vibrant Downtowns conference in April 2018!
We recently had our first conference planning meeting in Boulder. We are really excited to be working with Boulder’s Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) among other economic development and business partners. The energy was dynamic going into the first planning meeting with many inspiring ideas coming from all around the room. There is so much going on in Boulder to highlight making this conference so exciting to plan.
Our team also got to visit the space where the conference will be held, the Rembrandt Room. With floor-to-ceiling windows and a calming atmosphere, we hope the room will foster inspiration. The space has such great potential for collaboration especially for the challenge studio afternoons. Groups will have plenty of space to spread out and have great discussions about these challenges. If your community has a challenge, submit it now.
We hope this conference will foster an environment where different size communities can learn from each other and build a foundation for success!
Visit the conference page to learn more! Also, visit our events page to see what is coming up in the couple of months!
There is something to be said about the small town charm in Grand Junction and small towns like it across Colorado. The small businesses are often unique to each place, nevertheless, these businesses struggle to compete in an ever-growing global marketplace. With economies of scale and every commodity available, it can often be impossible to compete for small business.
This dilemma is what DCI, our volunteer consultants, and the Grand Junction BID tried to address in our Downtown Institute on August 27th. The first presentation from Brian Corrigan of Oh Heck Yeah described design interventions that attendees could implement immediately in their stores. He emphasize the importance of refining a store’s “story” or “the why” to attract people. People want to connect with a place in a way they cannot online, as a consequence, brick and mortar stores have an advantage of connecting with people- old style in reimagined ways. The goal of this presentation was to help the businesses create an environment for creativity in their stores.
Brian then spoke about the reasons for optimism in the face of the Amazon age. These reasons come from an article from a Forbes article stating that Millenials and Generation Z prefer real stores and that many people have an interest in experiences (i.e. being downtown). The emphasis is about providing more of an experience than simply providing goods. This includes partnering with local creatives and being flexible. Examples of flexibility could include an eye-glass retailer can also sell books and coffee or an auto-parts store could sell water.
The participants were also given the opportunity to learn about local resources, online outreach, and succession strategies for their business through three idea stations. The stations were facilitated by Elaine Brett, organizational development consultant, Rachel Trigano, Communications Consultant, and Rachel Hanson, Mesa County libraries.
The library is an especially important institution in many communities particularly in an online world. The library has physical space and resources for the community to take advantage of such as: meeting rooms, A/V equipment, and access to high quality business resources. Online outreach is also important for businesses to communicate with their customers and increase traction and loyalty. Participants also thought about the future of their business including if they would sell it once they retired or if they would consider selling it to their employees as part of an employee owned co-op.
Western Slope Now in Grand Junction did a story on the event! Check out the video and article.
If you are a small business interested about learning more about these topics and creating a better experience for your customers, please join us in Castle Rock on October 23 for a business bootcamp. Click here for more information!
Small business owners and employees are often pulled in numerous directions. In today’s digital environment, there are a lot of options for online marketing and branding and each platform comes with its own image and target audience. Many small business owners may not even have a website or Facebook page. But businesses must consider the best return on the investment of money and time for advertising and marketing. Most importantly, whichever platform they choose, they must maintain quality and current content.
On June 19th, 2017 consultants from DCI collaborated with the Brush Chamber of Commerce to facilitate a discussion about attracting outside audiences to stores in Brush! through various marketing platforms. We have found many of our members around the state desiring information on this topic.
Here are some of common concerns and the key takeaways from Brush!:
At Downtown Colorado, Inc.’s recent Urban Renewal Board Training on July 14th, we discussed the necessary topics of processes, best practices, and successes for Urban Renewal Authorities (URA) in Wheat Ridge, CO. Quite aptly, our venue was the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center which was a major project of the Wheat Ridge URA, lead by one of our speakers and board members, Steve Art. We touched on such topics as Tax Increment Financing (TIF), URAs in rural communities, presented case studies from around the state, financing and the new state legislation affecting the way URAs function.
Some of the speakers included Kimberly Bailey of the Fountain Urban Renewal Authority who talked about the recent number of rural URAs who have met success and keynote speaker Tracy Huggins of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority touched on supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship as well as public art. Our case study comes out of Colorado Springs, the Ivywild School development, in which the former school, closed in 2009, was brought back and repurposed for mixed use, public gardens, and common space to produce a vibrant built environment. Kristin Sullivan of Adams County spoke about being proactive in engaging with the recent state legislative changes regarding URAs and their experiences with this in Adams County. Finally, we had associates from the firm Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, and Schreck talk about financing and negotiating with developers in the course of implementing a URA project.
Join us next time on December 8th for our next URA training where the theme will be “expanding opportunities” -- visit our website or give us a call at 303.282.0625!
Lake City’s Downtown Improvement & revitalization Team (Lake City DIRT) recently had an “Economic Vitality Summit” on June 13th in which some exciting presentations about small business assistance, historic preservation, and downtown events were given. Regarding the last topic, DCI gave a presentation about how events on one’s Main Street can be used as an economic driver for all in addition to the numerous services and assistance that DCI provides for small rural towns in Colorado.
As is known to most of us in the planning world, small businesses and downtowns have a mutually beneficial relationship: businesses develop innovative ideas and services, provide an ambiance, help market themselves and the town, employ workers, and get people to drop by. The collective downtown, with these benefits from small business, then cross-pollinates those new and innovative ideas, builds upon that ambiance into safe and fun urban environments, is an accumulative place to live, eat, and shop, and generally builds the vibrancy of downtown or Main Street.
Having events in your downtown solidifies and cultivates this relationship by making the downtown a destination and at the same time, improving local business. The amount of discretionary income spent on holidays and weekends is definitely an area to utilize for any town – as an example, the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend 6.3 billion dollars on food items alone this Fourth of July.
Specific business assistance can be found in the presentations from the event on Lake City DIRT's website under publications including tax credits, loan programs, and helpful information, as well as resource contact information. Let DIRT know how they can help your Lake City business!
Join us and Lake City for an Economic Vitality Summit from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a working lunch at the Lake City Arts Center in downtown Lake City on June 13, 2017. Topics include “Events as Stimulus”, the “Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation”, and presentations on resources available for small businesses from USDA Rural Development, Small Business Development Council, and Region 10. We will also have several forum discussions about regional economic development topics – such as with CMAC (Creede Mineral Action Committee); RWEACT (Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team); and an update on the Community Technology Committee’s work with Hinsdale County Commissioner Susan Thompson.
2016 identified transformational strategies for Lake City's community seek to strengthen arts and outdoor-recreation related commercial endeavors so current efforts will be discussed as well.
There is no cost for the workshop but a $10 donation is requested for lunch.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call / text 970-596-9071 to sign up.
Lake City Downtown Improvement and Revitalization Team (DIRT) is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to preserving and enhancing Lake City's historic and commercial district. Visit www.lakecitydirt.com.