Monday, February 11, 2013

Joining the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade

Since June of 2007 I have been tracking economic development issues in the Denver region and have followed many exciting events in A View of the Rockies. However, this will be my last blog entry in the current format.

In July of 2011, I moved back to my home state of Colorado from the New York City region. I am extremely proud to announce that I will be working for the great State of Colorado in the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. I am very excited to partner with people and organizations around the whole state to help promote job growth and economic vitality in Colorado.

Finally, I wanted to point out that the opinions and ideas expressed in this blog over the past five plus years were from Jeff Kraft the private citizen and do not reflect the opinions or positions of the State of Colorado, the Governor's Office, the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, or even my own going forward positions as a public servant.

Best Regards,

Jeff Kraft

Sunday, December 16, 2012

New Year-Round Flight between Denver and Mexico City on Volaris Airlines

The first Volaris Airlines  non-stop flight between Mexico City and Denver landed at DIA last week on Saturday December 8th.  The service is notable because it will run at least weekly year-round (United and Aero-mexico have seasonal service between Denver and Mexico City).  Denver currently has non-stop service to 20 international destinations.   In March 2013, DIA will gain its first non-stop flight to Asia via Tokyo on United Airlines.  These international flights are important economic links promoting trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges and helping Colorado to land corporate headquarters and business operations of globally oriented enterprises.   Image above is courtesy of DIA (

Friday, November 30, 2012

Angel Investing and Venture Capital in Colorado

This past May, the Silicon Valley Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado released a report titled Bringing Angel Investing Out of the Shadows.  The report made a number of interesting points about the role of Angels in Colorado’s startup ecosystem.   One argument that I found particularly interesting was that Angels in Colorado face additional challenges compared to states with a higher density of locally-based VCs.   According to the report:

 "Angel investing in Colorado faces a 'bridge to nowhere' problem: investing becomes riskier as the scarcity of Colorado-based VC funds means that more Colorado startups either fail or move to the location of the out-of-state VC that funds them."
Additionally, the level of VC funding in Colorado has declined steeply from a peak of almost $4B in 2000 to an average of less than $600M per year from 2002 to 2011 according to data from Price Water House Coopers.   Some of this decline is likely related to the fact that Colorado has a smaller number of in state VC firms than coastal states. 

The problems described above do need context.  Colorado has a vibrant startup scene with concentrations in Boulder County and lower downtown Denver among other places.  The PWC data also shows that Colorado ranked sixth among the fifty states in total venture capital invested between 1995 and 2011.  However, Colorado is only the 22nd most populous state as of 2012.  On a per capita basis, Colorado had the tenth highest venture funding among the states on average between 1995 and 2011 (again per PWC data).  Despite the issues cited in the Angels paper, the state does appear to “be punching above its population weight” in venture funding. 

However, in such a nationally and globally competitive environment, it's clearly important to focus on making structural improvements to early stage capital access for startups and retaining them in Colorado as they grow.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wind Energy Jobs in Colorado Depend on PTC

The wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.  The credit promotes wind energy generation and improves its financial feasibility through use of an income tax credit of 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of wind energy produced.  This makes private financing for wind generation developments attractive and drives demand for blades, turbines and other wind farm components.   The uncertainty surrounding the availability of this credit is causing layoffs in  the wind industry in Colorado and hurting regional economic development.   For example Vestas has laid off manufacturing workers at its blade factories in Brighton and Windsor and has eliminated research and development jobs in Louisville, Colorado.

The U.S. Congress should pass and the President should sign a long term renewal of the PTC.  This would reduce financial uncertainty surrounding investments in wind generation and promote clean energy, economic security and job creation in Colorado and the U.S.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Three Recent Denver Region Economic Development Wins

There were three recent notable Denver Region Economic development wins worth pointing out in strategic regional industry clusters: Natural Foods, Green Energy, and High Tech.
  • Smart Balance, the healthy and natural foods company that purchased Denver-based Udi's in July 2012 announced it is changing its name to "Boulder Brands, Inc"
     and moving its corproate headquarters to Boulder, CO.   According to the company's October 2, 2012 press release:
"In 2013, the Company plans to move its primary corporate offices to Boulder, CO, and change
its name to Boulder Brands, Inc., which better reflects its recent transformation to a company
with multiple brands and a greater presence in natural foods.  Commenting on the organizational change, Steve Hughes stated, “The establishment of two business segments and the relocation of our corporate headquarters to Boulder, CO — the Silicon Valley of natural foods— is consistent with our long‐term view of the Company and will allow us to plan and execute on our strategy more effectively."

  • Its been a rough year in the U.S. for Vestas, the Denmark-based wind turbine manufacturer.   Despite bipartisan support, the U.S. congress has not yes extended the wind product tax credit currently set to expire at the end of 2012, creating regulatory uncertainty and reducing demand in the U.S. for wind energy generation expansion.   As a result, Vestas has had several rounds of layoffs at Colorado facilities.  However, one bright spot is the company's committment to Colorado seems strong as Vestas is consolidating several U.S. R and D offices (in Houston, Marlborough, MA and Louisville, CO into a single hub in Brighton, Colorado. 

  • Hitachi Data Systems which provides enterprise storage systems including hardware, softward, and services announced it is expanding its Colorado presence with a new office in Douglas County which will create hundreds of jobs over the next five years.   According to an October 5th press release from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade:
 "This expansion is very important to Hitachi Data Systems” said Randy DeMont, HDS’ Executive Vice President and General Manager. “We have experienced significant growth over the last several years and are excited to bring that to the Colorado community. In selecting the new location for our Colorado office, we weighed many critical factors and found the Denver area to best match our business goals and values. We look forward to the expansion and becoming a valued contributor to our shared community."


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rebchook on Site Selectors

Site selection, the process of businesses making location decisions, is the flip side of economic development where by geopolitical entities like regions or municipalities try to attract businesses and capital investments.     Long time Denver business and real estate reporter John Rebcook had an excellent story about the recent “Making the Cut: Factors Driving Today’s Site Selection Decisions,” conference for site selectors in Denver.   John does an excellent job of explaining the key role professional consultants play in guiding site selection decisions and disucsses the Denver region's competitive position.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Installation of Table Mesa Pedestrian Bridge Concrete Example of BRT Progress

The installation of the steel girder framed pedestrian bridge on top of twin concrete platforms at the Table Mesa Park-n-Ride is a physical example of progress and investment on the US 36 Bus Rapid Transit and Multimodal Corridor.  The $7 Million bridge which spans US 36, connects the main portion of the Park-n-Ride Station with the Denver Bound lanes of the turnpike.   This will save three or more minutes for buses heading east out of Boulder and improve operational flow and add capacity at the facility.  The bridge is expected to be operational in March 2013.

Photo below of of newly installed span of the Pedestrian Bridge at the Table Mesa Park-n-Ride in Boulder Colorado from Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera published on 9/16/2012.

Image below of is an illustrated view of the completed project looking North toward Boulder from the RTD FasTracks web site.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Lee Kemp, John Tayer, and Will Toor: Must Read on Northwest Rail Line and FasTracks

The Daily Camera Guest Opinion from Kemp, Tayer and Toor on August 26, 2012 is a must read and does the best job I have seen in putting the FasTracks situation in Boulder Country in context.   The Bus Rapid Transit and intermodel improvements on US 36 will be a huge win for Boulder County; Creative solutions needs to be developed to bring rail to the country in a cost effective and timely manner consistent with the promises made to commuters, residents, tax payers and voters in the region as part of FasTracks; And we need to keep working toward a productive regional solution to these issues while applying pressure to the system to make sure Boulder Country's interests are protected.

A couple of key excerpts from the Opinion:

"For the immediate term, we joined with our other US 36 colleagues to prioritize full build out of bus-rapid-transit (BRT) system. Why the focus on BRT? With an estimated daily ridership of 20,400 by 2035, the US 36 BRT system has long been recognized as the transit workhorse for Boulder/Denver commuters...

 [W]e now have the $400 million to begin construction of two high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes between Boulder and Westminster. These HOV lanes are the backbone of the BRT system, creating traffic-free travel for RTD buses, along with carpoolers and toll-paying drivers...

BRT is far more than merely HOV lanes, though. True BRT includes travel amenities and service enhancements such as specially designed and high frequency buses, real-time bus information, faster loading with pre-pay fare systems, and improved stations. That is the standard of "rail-like" service which characterizes model BRT systems around the globe and is the same BRT service standards we expect RTD to deliver for our corridor...

But we aren't nearly as far down the line as anyone would have liked. It makes us fighting mad, for sure. Rather than run in circles, screaming and shouting, though, we are focused on aggressively pursuing the most practical route toward achieving the vision of regional transit mobility that the 2004 FasTracks plan embodied. We hope you will join us in that fight."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Tolerance Index: How Does the Denver Region Rank?

Image from Atlantic Cities and Martin Prosperity Institute

Richard Florida frequently cites "the three Ts" of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance as powerful factors driving a place's economic success.  In two recent posts on the Atlantic Cities web site, Denver is ranked 19th among large U.S.  metro areas and Boulder is ranked 9th among all U.S. metro areas on the Tolerance Index.   Components of the index include the percent of  residents who are foreign born, the concentration of gays and lesbians, and the level of segregation between  racial and ethnic groups.

Florida believes that the causal arrow runs from tolerance to economic success and not the other way around.   You can see on the map above that the Denver Region is a bastion of darker purple tolerance in a relatively sparse portion of the U.S.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Risks to Regional Green Energy Cluster

Long time readers of this blog know that I have been trumpeting the growth of and benefits from the green energy sector in Colorado.  A series of exogenous events are serving to undermine this cluster in the state and the U.S. 

In the wind energy vertical, the Federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) which provides an income tax credit of 2.2 cents per KW/hour of wind energy produced is set to expire on December 31, 2012 and appears to be another casualty of gridlock in Washington DC.   This has implications for employment in Colorado as companies like Vestas and their supply chain partners will basically stop making wind generation equipment in 2013, leading to large layoffs if this policy is not renewed.  It should be extended to provide a predictable environment for investment decisions, promote increases in renewable generation capacity, protect jobs and the environment, spur innovation and help U.S.-based facilities compete globally.

In the solar energy vertical, several high profile companies - including Loveland Colorado-based Abound Solar - have recently declared bankruptcy in the face of tough competition from Chinese manufacturers and headwinds from the weak economy.  Thus GE's recent announcement that
it will be suspending its plans to build the largest Solar factory in the U.S. for 18 months is particularly painful.

In the longer term, Colorado, the Front Range, and the Denver Region remain well positioned to benefit from an increase in demand for renewable energy but the short to medium terms seem to be filled with risks and disappointments.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

More on the Patent Office

Graphic from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web Site

A few interesting tid bits on the Patent Office coming to the Denver region.

  • There is a pretty fierce debate on selecting a site for the office: Downtown Denver, Stapleton, Fitzsimons, the Tech Center, the Federal Center, or the former site of the University of Colorado Medical School off Colorado Boulevard.   This will be fascinating to see play out.

  • The Patent Office  Press Release announcing the selection of the three new satellite cities provides insight about the agency's internal perspective on the impact of these branch locations:
"The four offices will function as hubs of innovation and creativity, helping protect and foster American innovation in the global marketplace, helping businesses cut through red tape, and creating new economic opportunities in each of the local communities. Next week, Acting Secretary Blank and Under Secretary Kappos will travel to each of the newly selected cities to meet with local businesses, entrepreneurs and public officials to discuss the new office openings.
  • It is also interesting to see what the Patent Office had to say about their site selection criteria and methodology for choosing the three cities among hundreds of candidates in a supplemental document attached to the announcement press release.
"Selection of the four sites was based upon a comprehensive analysis of criteria including geographical diversity, regional economic impact, ability to recruit and retain employees, and the ability to engage the intellectual property community, among others...
The Dallas area provides the USPTO with a southern, central time zone hub from which to operate. The region is exceedingly rich in engineering talent, patent applicants, and patent grants. Dallas boasts an above average population of potential Veteran employees.

The Denver area provides the USPTO with a mountain time zone hub from which to operate. Empirical evidence demonstrates that Denver is a sought-after place to live and work with relatively low cost-of-living—a critical combination for the recruitment and retention of top talent. Further, the economic impact of a USPTO satellite office in the Denver region is projected to be disproportionate relative to most other cities. Denver also boasts an above average population of potential Veteran employees.

Silicon Valley provides the USPTO with a pacific time zone hub in the heart of California’s most vibrant innovation center. Silicon Valley, and the areas that surround it, contain many of the USPTO’s top filers as well as legions of start-up and small tech companies that depend on the USPTO. Further, Silicon Valley’s great quality of life and abundant population of engineering talent will provide fertile recruiting grounds for the Agency. The USPTO recognizes the challenges of retention in a hyper-competitive market, and will work to construct a concept of operations for the three offices that recognizes such challenges."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Denver to Get Satellite U.S. Patent Office

The Denver Post and Denver Busimess Journal are reporting that the U.S. Patent Office will announce on Monday that the Denver Metro Area, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Jose will join Detroit as one of four cities where the U.S. Patent Office will open a satellite branch. This is another big win for economic development in the Denver Region as the presence of this office will accomplish several major objectives: help strengthen the Metro Denver region's competitive site selection position in drawing innovative high techology companies and researchers who generate patents by making it logistically easier for these entities to apply for and recieve patents when located in Colorado; increase Denver's attractiveness to professional, legal and financial services comapnies who support technology companies; provide hundreds stable of well paying regional jobs; and send a signal to investors, entrapranuers and knowledge workers that Denver is a great place invest, work and live.

Many political, business and civic leaders did a great job of selling the state and region.  See The Case for a Satellite Patent Office in Colorado as a very well constructed piece of marketing collateral for the Denver Region.

Colorado Senator, Micahel Bennet, who was a key advocate for Colorado and sponsored the legislation which authorized creating Patent satellite officers issued a press release praising the decision:

"This is a well-deserved victory for the state of Colorado,” said Bennet. “This tremendous news affirms what we already know about our state – that we are leaders in innovation, technological development, and economic growth. The new office will provide a boost to the growing high-tech industries in Colorado, such as the bioscience, clean energy, and aerospace fields.

“The work to bring the patent office to Denver was a truly collaborative effort that included bipartisan support in government, the business community, academia and from local leaders across the state. In particular, patent attorney John Posthumus has worked tirelessly for years as one of the leaders to make this a reality. The patent office will anchor Colorado’s reputation as a leader in innovation and the 21st century economy and will benefit the state for many years to come."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Northwest Rail Line Delay Upsetting and Disappointing

For those people living in or commuting to Boulder County, Broomfield and Westminster, the "perfect storm" of sales tax revenue shortfalls (due to the Great Recession) and higher than budgeted for costs ($1.7B versus original $461M estimate), which have contributed to a potential multi-decade delay on the construction of the Northwest Corridor Rail Line (to 2042 from 2016), there is legitimate anger, disappointment and cynicism. 
Image from RTD

Taxpayers in the Northwest Corridor (Longmont, Boulder, Louisville, Superior, Broomfield and other places) have been paying an extra .4% of sales tax into the FasTracks revenue pot since 2005 helping to jump start planning and construction for other rail lines while the possibility of their rail line has receded into a murky, uncertain and distant future.  Boulder County voters want to stick to the commuter rail plan and are pushing RTD for guarantees about delivery and timing.  Commuters along US 36 have been underwhelmed by the prospects for Bus Rapid Transit Improvements along the US 36 Corridor from Boulder to Denver.  Voters, commuters, and taxpayers are cranky and there is a general sense of discontent, discouragement and distaste about the process and the outcome.

While these are all valid responses to the situation, its important to not lose sight of the concrete benefits that have come and are coming to commuters on the US 36 Corridor from the development of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.  These real, tangible, cumulative,ongoing benefits will promote mobility, regional economic vitality and can demonstrate the importance of transit infrastructure investments and ultimately help make the case for the importance of building the complementary Northwest Rail Line.

Over the next several months I will be writing a series of blog posts talking about BRT on the US 36 Corridor to explain what has happened, is happening and what the outcomes are and why this is important to the region.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Denver Region on the Right Side of College Educated Work Force Divide

According to Brookings Data published in the New York Times, the Denver Region has the ninth highest percent of college graduates (the region would rank higher but Boulder is not included).  This is a self reinforcing phenomina which over the long term will play a key role in the economic vitality of the region.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Denver To Tokyo Finally A Reality

The recently announced United Airelines Flight from Denver to Tokyo is a big boost to Denver's Status as global business and tourist destination.  This has been a long time coming and big congradulations are due to all the parties who worked to make this happen.  Certainly the launch of the Boeing 787 made this flight economically  feasible.  It will be fascinating to see if any other long haul international flights get added to DIA.

Poster image from, photo by City of Denver; Business Groups.