Forbes’ says that Denver is the number one city to do business

BY FREDA MIKLIN GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER Nearly 500 people attended South Metro Denver Chamber’s annual economic forecast breakfast on Jan. 24 at CU South Denver in Lone Tree.  Pete Casillas, Vice-President Local Markets for American City Business Journal, parent company of the Denver Business Journal, served as moderator. Michael Greco, regional managing partner of the law firm of Fisher Phillips, presenting sponsor, opened the program by sharing that Forbes magazine had recognized Colorado as the leader in labor and employment law reform since 2019.
Before becoming the CFO of Colorado State University, Henry Sobanet was director of the Colorado office of planning and budgeting from 2004 to 2007 and 2011 to 2018.
Henry Sobanet, CFO of Colorado State University, said he would address “how systems that support our economy and lifestyle impact our economic future.” Overall, according to Sobanet, “the economic recovery has been ongoing and there’s enough momentum to keep it going.” Focusing on Colorado, he said that while our state’s total population is expected to increase 14 percent in the next ten years, the largest increases will be in the 65-84 age group, which will grow by 35 percent and the 85 + age group, which is expected to increase 50 percent. Those statistics translate into a need for more housing and transportation resources and options. He went on to explain that while the state’s general fund revenues have doubled in the past two decades from $6.5 billion to $13 billion, health and human services and K-12 education comprise two-thirds of the entire general fund budget, with Medicaid accounting for most of the increase in health care costs. The state share of K-12 funding is now 61 percent of the total cost of $7.6 billion (not counting local mill levy overrides) owing largely to the application of the Gallagher Amendment of 1982 and the TABOR Amendment of 1992. That leaves very little for other needs. Higher education now gets a paltry 8 percent of the general fund budget, while U.S. Bureau of Labor data shows that higher education still translates to higher income, thus higher taxes for the state. Transportation receives only 2 percent of the general fund budget. Its main source of revenue is state and federal fuel taxes. From 2003 to 2019, vehicle registrations in Colorado rose 35 percent, while all fuel taxes only increase 19 percent. Due to our robust economy, our population increased 27 percent in that period and jobs grew by 29 percent. However, Sobanet observed, “Part of being competitive is your physical infrastructure.” Inadequate funding of transportation, including roads and transit, is a long-term problem for attracting and retaining business. Asked by an audience member how he thinks the state will come up with the $9 billion needed to fund the most crucial transportation projects on the Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) much-discussed priority list, Sobanet said, referring to the legislature, “You have to do more work (in Colorado) to create momentum to get people to say yes. When you’re sick enough of your commute, you’ will create a ballot issue that voters will approve.”
J. J. Ament is a strong leader in regional economic development.
J.J. Ament, CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, told the leaders in business and government gathered that the advantage of being here is that, “We really do work as a region and as a state to achieve economic benefit together.” He pointed out that his organization represents the entire metropolitan area without respect to any city boundary lines. It has Denver in its named, he explained, because people outside Colorado describe the metropolitan area with that term. Our major competitors for attracting businesses are Utah, Texas, Georgia, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and California. Utah is number one on that list. They often point to their higher spending on roads, Ament said. Although Colorado employment growth ranked 7th in 2018 (up from 13th in 2016), growing 2.4 percent and adding 64,000 jobs, Utah grew faster, ranking 3rd with 3.4 percent growth. Ament said that both California and Washington rank higher than Colorado in the growth of per capita personal income and state GDP per employee. Colorado’s state tax structure is considered the 18th best for overall business taxes and 16th for corporate income taxes due to its low, flat-rate system. Texas, Washington, Oregon, and California all rank in the bottom 20 states. When it comes to education, Colorado ranks as the second most highly educated state in the nation, with 42 percent of its residents holding a college degree. We are surpassed only by Massachusetts. Only one of our major competitors is ranked in the top ten. According to Ament, “The risks to Colorado’s economy in 2020 are public policy and politics.” On the subject of paid family leave, currently under discussion in the legislature, he said, “The business community believes it can deliver services like this better than the government can. With competition for talent, businesses are organically offering better wages and benefits. Paid family leave is an important benefit.” Closing on a high note, Ament pointed to Forbes’ magazine’s conclusion that, “Denver is the number one city in the United States to do business.” 
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