FDI magazine: published in December 2012/January 2013 issue
By Karen E. Thuermer
When song writer John Denver composed his infamous tune “Rocky Mountain High” in 1973, his lyrics were meant to describe the sense of peace he found in the Rockies Mountains. But at the time, Denver, Colorado, which sits on the edge of this large North American mountain range, had become known as the second most polluted city in the United States behind Los Angeles.
In fact, in 1973, the Mile High City had 150 days of unhealthy air.
“Air quality doesn’t care about political boundaries,” comments Tom Clark, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
The Denver Brown Cloud wasn’t the only challenge facing this once gold town gone bust. Local governments started praying on one another, stealing companies from one city to another.
“Just when the impulse says dive under the table and pull the blanket up, we decided to build a world class infrastructure,” Mr. Clark remarks.
The effort began with tearing down old viaducts that put Denver in permanent shade throughout the year, and building a baseball stadium in lower downtown.
“We built the stadium area as a pedestrian destination, which resulted in people walking through lower downtown to clubs and restaurants that began to sprout up,” he says.
Today Denver also offers a football stadium, convention center, and a new venue for winter sports. In addition, it provides an efficient transportation system that includes major highway expansions and a $7.4 billion mass transit system that will add 122 miles of rail rapid transit and extend existing routes throughout the region. Denver International Airport also continues to attract a number of international flights
Businesses have taken notice. Since 2010, 26 corporations including several Fortune 500 companies have moved to Denver. Some have announced that they are moving their headquarters there.
Arrow Electronics, which controls about 40% of the global business supplying electronic components and services primarily to manufacturers, transferred its global headquarters from Melville, NY to the Denver in 2011. Not only did it become Colorado’s largest revenue company; it put Denver at the center of a new industry, Mr. Clark says.
Hitachi Data Systems, a unit of Tokyo-based Hitachi Ltd., recently announced plans to open a new office in Denver. J Schneider Elektrotechnik, a leading German manufacturer of industrial power supplies, opened its new manufacturing center in Denver in June.
The same is occurring for innovation clusters such as medical and biotech.
DaVita, a provider of kidney care services, relocated its headquarters from California and to downtown Denver in September. BCT is expanding its global headquarters operations in Lakewood outside of Denver. Fostering future growth is the Fitzsimons Life Science District in neighboring Aurora. It’s one of the largest bioscience real estate developments in the country.
Clean tech is also significant for Denver, despite the fact Denver is ranked No. 4 worldwide as an “up-and-coming” energy city for oil and gas professionals by Rigzone.com.
In 2010, former Governor Bill Ritter signed landmark legislation that requires Colorado to generate 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 — the highest renewable energy standard in the Rocky Mountain West. Since then, the city has seen a 6% average annual growth in clean tech jobs.
Companies like Vestas, Energy Unlimited, Inc. (EUI), and Siemens have invested in Denver. There’s also potential for solar investment.
A big plus, Denver is known for being the No. 1 city in America for relocating young adults (25-34) during the recession. It’s also ranked third among US metropolitan areas for job growth over the 12 months ending in July.