Thursday, August 30, 2007

Denver Office of Economic Development Podcasts

I wanted to devote a short blog entry to the Denver Office of Economic Development Podcast web page ( This is a great source information on economic development issues from key leaders in Denver. Podcasters include: Tom Clark, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (MDEDC), Mary Rose Loney, DIA Partnership (which is planning to merge with MDEDC and become a special purpose entity with a continuing focus on DIA development issues see, Tom Gleason, Forest City Stapleton, Michael Hancock, President, Denver City Council, Sandy Bracken, Bard Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Denver, and others.

I thought Tom Clark's podcast did an excellent job of explaining the role of the MDEDC in supporting a cooperative regional approach to economic development in Metro Denver. I also found the other podcasts to be extremely informative. Here's hoping that the Denver Office of Economic Development continues to update this web page with additional information.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Denver’s Train to Plane: Lessons Learned from Personal Experience and Other Transit Agencies.

As part of the FasTracks rapid transit build out, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is designing the East Corridor from Union Station to Denver International Airport (DIA) ( ). RTD has announced that this Corridor will be built with electric commuter rail technology and it is targeted for construction between 2011 and 2014 with the rail system becoming operational in 2015. This line has the potential to dramatically improve transportation to/from DIA, reduce road congestion and provide a reliable way to get to/from the airport in adverse conditions.

However, for this transit option to fulfill its full promise, RTD must design the corridor with the needs of air travelers clearly in mind and should pay attention to the lessons learned from other transit systems. Even small considerations and amenities can substantially improve the overall experience and increase ridership particularly given the stressful nature of air travel today.

I have the following suggestions: provide a “one seat ride” between Union Station and DIA (i.e. not requiring any transfers from the commuter rail to an airport people mover train or buses to reach the airport terminal); make sure the DIA rail station connection to the airport terminals is convenient to air travelers; configure the rail car interiors and station platforms to accommodate passenger luggage; provide paid long term parking capacity on the East Corridor and at stations throughout the FasTracks system and ensure that the facilities at Denver Union Station promote smooth intermodal connections between the East Corridor and other transportation methods.

To my knowledge RTD and DIA have not released detailed design information for the DIA rail station but RTD has posted a rough schematic that shows the proposed DIA rail station will be located underground, on Level One, below a proposed future DIA terminal to be constructed south of and across 84th Avenue from the current Jeppesen Terminal. The new terminal will provide additional departing passenger ticket counters(

RTD explains that further detail is not offered in its proposal because

“[s]tation location characteristics for DIA are not evaluated as part of the [East Line Environmental Impact Statement] EIS because it is being done as part of the DIA expansion project.”

In the recently released Preliminary Official Statement Dated July 25, 2007 for DIA Airport System Revenue Bonds, the airport also reveals some information about its rail station plans (

“The airport plans to spend slightly more than $26 million on “Train System Projects” between 2008 and 2013….The 2008-2013 Capital Program also includes a terminal complex project that will provide access from a new rail station to be constructed by the Regional Transportation the Airport terminal. RTD…is currently in the environmental processing and preliminary engineering phases of providing commuter rail service from Denver Union Station…to the Airport….RTD is planning to fund, design, build and operate a rail line to the Airport, as well as station platforms and other rail transit amenities at the Airport Station. The City…is planning to design, build and operate the rail station facilities required to provide access from the rail station to the terminal building including the elevators, escalators, baggage checking and security requirements necessary to accomplish this access.”

So between the information from RTD and DIA provided above, it appears the current design proposal will meet the “one seat ride” criteria unless passengers going to Jeppesen Terminal are required to board a people mover train which seems unlikely based on the information in the bond statement. The design of the connection between the airport rail station and the new airport terminal and the Jeppesen Terminal should facilitate easy pedestrian access. For example moving walkways, ramps, escalators and elevators could be employed.

I have found the connection between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) heavy rail transit system, to be very convenient and easy to use. It’s a short walk from baggage claim or the ticket counters to the MARTA trains. This contrasts with the less convenient connection between San Francisco International Airport and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains which requires use of an escalator and the airport people mover train to connect between BART and the domestic terminals at San Francisco International Airport. Additionally, the airport rail links to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark-Liberty Airport in New Jersey and Logan Airport in Boston are also inconvenient because they require transfers from the mass transit system to an airport-based transit mode before connecting passengers to the airport terminal.

The rail cars on the East Corridor should be designed to accommodate luggage with luggage racks and floor space suitable for larger luggage. Additionally, East Corridor rail stations should have ramps and elevators leading to elevated platforms so that passengers can easily get their luggage from the street level onto the rail cars without ever climbing up any steps. Union Station itself should be designed to provide quick, easy connections between different transportation modes including light rail, commuter rail, buses and other modes.

Finally an important amenity which can be used to attract riders to the FasTracks airport rail link is to offer paid long term parking at rail stops. RTD is planning to have more than 3,000 parking spots at four different park and ride stations on the East Corridor. (see for details). I am not sure how many, if any spaces, will be available for long-term, overnight use by air passengers. Obviously priority should be given to daily users who park at the stations during work-day commutes. However, in the context of appropriate land use considerations, RTD should provide long-term parking spaces to attract airport passengers.

The BART connection to San Francisco International Airport has not met its ridership expectations since its opening in 2003. However, the system is now offering long term parking at stations near the airport in an effort to increase ridership. ( . RTD should follow this idea and provide paid long-term parking spaces on FasTracks at East Corridor stations and stations on other connecting corridors where feasible.

The Denver Metro Area will maximize the benefits from the East Corridor as long as common sense design decisions are made which provide a comfortable and convenient experience to air travelers.

All images in this blog entry are from the RTD FasTracks web site except images of the Plane taking off and the DIA terminal which are Courtesy of Denver International Airport

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Creating a Signiture Public Art Attraction in Denver: A Call for Suggestions

Two years ago I spent a summer weekend in Providence, Rhode Island and attended WaterFire ( Equal parts public art installation, seasonal festival, public spectacle, and performance art, WaterFire has evolved into a Providence icon.

The WaterFire web site provides an excellent description of this attraction:

“WaterFire Providence, the award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence, has been praised by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance. WaterFire’s one hundred sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park. WaterFire has captured the imagination of over ten million visitors, bringing life to downtown, and revitalizing Rhode Island’s capital city.”

WaterFire has drawn thousands of visitors into Providence, helped reinvigorate the downtown area and provided a substantial economic boost to the city which is estimated to be in the millions of dollars each season.

Civic leaders in Denver such as Mayor Hickenlooper and staff in the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs clearly recognize the powerful economic devleopment impact that the arts can have on the city. Denver is already blessed with an outstanding series of annual events, festivals, and artistic and cultural organizations. The City of Denver also has a strong public art program ( ). Metro Denver voters have wisely supported the regional Scientific and Cultural Facilties District (SCFD) ( ) through a tenth of a percent sales tax in the seven county Denver Metro Area.

However, I believe that the City of Denver and the metro area would benefit enormously from developing a signature public art attraction that is analogous to WaterFire. Such an attraction would need to be both spectacular and intellectually stimulating. It should be created by an artist who has a deep understanding of Denver so that it fits contextually into the local geography and built environment using media formats that are organic to Colorado. The attraction would need to generate strong support from the local community including residents, businesses and civic leaders. Making this attraction “green” (i.e. environmentally friendly) would also be important These are not easy requirements to meet but the payoff for Denver could be tremendous if a successful attraction was launched.

This attraction would serve as a powerful brand building campaign for Denver, and help to fulfill Mayor Hickenlooper’s vision that “Denver will ascend to be the cultural capital of the west.” It could draw in tens of thousands of visitors to Denver and provide enjoyment to local residents. Other local artistic and cultural entities would gain spillover benefits from the publicity and traffic it generates as Denver’s profile as an artistic destination is raised.

Blog readers, what do you think of this idea? This blog is making an open call for suggestions and opinions on this topic? Please provide your feedback on this idea and also let Denver civic leaders such as the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs( know what you think.

The WaterFire photographs in this blog entry are from WaterFire installation & musical compilations © Barnaby Evans 1997-2007.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Metro Denver's International Competitiveness: Ranking Denver with OECD Data

A basic premise of A View of the Rockies is that Metro Denver does not just compete with cities in the United States for capital, employees and businesses, but also with metro areas around the globe. This blog entry explores Metro Denver’s international competitiveness by examining the area's rankings compared to international metro areas based on key metrics such as population, productivity, GDP per capita, employment rate and educational achievement.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ( is an international organization which “brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economcy from around the world to: Support sustainable economic growth; Boost employment; Raise living standards; Maintain financial stability; Assist other countries' economic development; and Contribute to growth in world trade.” Headquartered in Paris, the OECD has 30 member nations in Europe, North America and Asia.

The OECD produced a publication called Competitive Cities in the Global Economy in 2006 as part of the OECD Territorial Reviews series which defines and compares 78 international metro areas. The OECD uses a methodology which looks at population population density, commute patterns and total population size to define metro regions. Listing all the metro areas included by the OECD in this report would be too lengthy for this blog but the U.S metro areas include the following : Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, and Washington D.C. International cities come from Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, South Korea, etc.

Any attempt at comparing economic data across nations is fraught with challenges due to differences in data collection methodologies and definitions between governments in different nations. These issues should be kept in mind in viewing the data presented in this blog. Note also that the metrics presented below are not comprehensive measures of global competitiveness but do provide useful measurements and indications.

So how does Denver compare to other international cities across key metrics reported by the OECD? The following table summarizes Denver’s rankings. Note the table is constructed in such as way that higher rankings are always better. So, for example, a higher ranking on unemployment means the actual unemployment percentage is low.

Metro Denver's International Rankings Based On OECD Competitiveness Metrics

Metro Denver scores extremely well (4th) both in absolute terms and relative to the national U.S. population in the percent of its population with higher education (referred to as "Tertiary" education in the table above). This rating indicates that Denver's labor force is highly skilled and well-positioned to participate in knowledge-based economic activities. Denver also scored well in the GDP per Capita (7th) and Productivity (13th) metrics which are also both indicators of the quality of the regional labor force.

However, in total population, Denver is one of the smallest metro areas analyzed by the OECD (61st). Many of the other international metro areas in the survey which have relatively small populations have the advantage of being national governmental capital cities and/or the largest city in their respective nations (e.g. Prague, Vienna, Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Dublin and Auckland). Metro Denver's relatively small population, lack of national capital status, and its spatial isolation from other large metro areas may make it relatively harder to market the Denver Metro Area to international businesses and investors because there is a smaller chance that international decision makers will either visit Denver directly or visit near-by metro areas and do a side trip to Denver (less spill over). I believe this disadvantage implies that Metro Denver may need to work relatively harder and smarter than global competitor metro areas to develop international brand awareness and attract the global financial capital and businesses that a city with its high quality labor force and natural amenities would normally justify.

Denver also scores in the bottom half (upper portion) of the rankings of employment and unemployment scores relative to the home country national average score. To some degree scoring in the lower mid-range in these metrics should not be viewed as major competitive determent because the United States overall has relatively lower unemployment than many other nations with cities included in the survey. However, Denver does score below other U.S. cities on the employment metric except for St. Louis, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Metro Denver's relatively weak score here may be in part due to the Metro Area's reliance on air transportation and telecommunications industries both of which were in economic down cycles during the 2002 and 2004 time frame when this data was gathered. This points out a larger concern about the Metro Denver economy -- that traditionally the Denver economy has been very cyclical with heavy dependence on a relatively small number of industries. This issue is something which merits further exploration and discussion in a later blog entry.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Economic Base Analysis Part II: Location Quotients and Industry Growth Forecasts

In my blog from July 4, 2007, I presented data on the nine county Metro Denver and City and County of Denver location quotients which evaluated which industries are part of the areas' economic bases. In this blog, I combine Metro Denver location quotient data with forecasts of average annual growth rates by industry from 2004 through 2014 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This allows me to plot location quotient against economic growth forecasts and create a two by two matrix (see Figure 1 below).

Within the matrix two of the quadrants are particularly useful. Those industries which have location quotients greater than one and positive economic growth forecasts are likely to be positive drivers of the Metro Denver economy (see Quadrant I in Figure 1 and Figure 2 below). Those industries which have location quotients greater than one and negative economic growth forecasts are likely to negatively impact the Metro Denver economy (see Quadrant II in Figure 1 and Figure 3 below) and should be cause for concern among civic leaders and local government officials due to their risk of decline. Note I did not label the specific industries plotted in Figure 1 because the plots are too dense to allow for labels to be legible but the industries in Quadrants I and II with the highest location quotients are listed in Figures 2 and 3 below.

From a high level perspective, the good news for Metro Denver is that there are a lot more industries in Figure 1 Quadrant I/Figure 2 than there are in Figure 1 Quadrant II/Figure 3 which indicates that based on the composition of its economic base, Metro Denver is poised to benefit more from industry growth than it will be harmed by declines.

Figure 1: LQ versus Average Annual Growth

Figure 2: Growth Industries (from Quadrant I)

Figure 2 above shows that the Denver Metro Area economic base is well positioned in a range of knowledge-based, service sector industries which are poised for economic growth including professional and technical services, internet related employment and several financial services sectors among others. It is notable that the BLS forecasts for growth in the air transportation sector are proving to be accurate as shown by the strong performance of Denver International Airport (see my July 30, 2007 blog about DIA's expansion plans).

Figure 3: Industries at Risk for Decline (Quadrant 2)

According to Figure 3, the oil and gas extraction, telecommunications, postal, computer and electronic product manufacturing, and miscellaneous manufacturing sectors are forecasted to decline from 2004 to 2014. The forecast for declines in the oil and gas extraction sector appear to be quite wrong given that the sector has enjoyed a boom throughout the Rocky Mountain West, the nation and the world due to high energy prices and strong global demand.

However, the telecommunications and computer and electronic product manufacturing and miscellaneous manufacturing sectors appear to be sectors that pose the highest risk for declining in the near term and harming Metro Denver's economic health (the Postal sector is very small in terms of total employment). The Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation has correctly recognized the risk to these sectors by identifying “Broadcasting and Telecommunications” and “Information Technology – Hardware” as two of the three “industry clusters” it has “targeted for retention.” (see

I believe, even high technology manufacturing will be increasingly hard to sustain in the Metro Denver Area and the United States as a whole and that manufacturing sectors have the highest risk of contraction of any sector within the metro area economic base. Increasing global competition in manufacturing will continue to take share from U.S. based manufacturers. If this belief is true, this implies that, over the long term, economic development officials should focus their efforts on retention and recruitment of telecommunications related companies, as opposed to companies in other at risk sectors, to achieve maximum benefit for the Denver Metro Area.