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Branding Colorado

Gov. John Hickenlooper's team has been busy putting its stamp on the way it approaches economic development. Where the administration of Gov. Bill Ritter chose a dominant theme to rally business and investment - the "new energy economy" - Hickenlooper's Office of Economic Development and International Trade has rolled out the Colorado Blueprint, a populist-style model based on input from business and civic leaders from across the state.

Coined the "bottom-up" approach, the state condensed this feedback to 14 regional statements and finally identified six core objectives it will pursue in support of economic growth:

1. Build a business-friendly environment
2. Retain, grow and recruit companies
3. Increase access to capital
4. Create and market a stronger Colorado brand
5. Educate and train the work force of the future
6. Cultivate innovation and technology

It's hard to argue with the Blueprint's objectives. Collectively, it connects with more of the state's businesses than did Ritter's approach. It also feels less "aspirational," better suited to the challenges at hand. Hickenlooper's economic development team, led by Ken Lund, is also determined to build platforms to support implementation of the Blueprint and measure progress. Bravo.

It's easy to knit-pick these types of things, but generally I'd offer two suggestions.

Commit to ending the first term with measurable results on two critical infrastructure issues - water and transportation. The state lacks a comprehensive water roadmap. It desperately needs one. Interstate 70 will continue to frustrate. Pace cars and lane-widening may be workable stop-gaps. Neither constitutes an infrastructure strategy. Hickenlooper is well-qualified to arbitrate a longer-term plan.

Developing a new Colorado "brand" doesn't need to be a bullet-point in this plan when the entire document informs this administration's marketing play. Business is the brand.

At the earliest possible moment, stop the ad campaign and messaging dreamed up by the out-of-state agency formerly charged with marketing our state. "A Land Called Colorado" evokes "The Land That Time Forgot." Did I miss our newest theme park? Was Edgar Rice Burroughs born here?

Business is the brand. Two great examples:

Colorado is becoming a hot-bed for start-up ski and clothing manufacturers. If you're shopping for boards and haven't looked at Wagner, Folsom or Icelantic skis, among others, you're missing the boat. Loki and Flylow are emerging world-class outerwear brands. We're no longer just a ski destination. We're a 360-degree snow-sports powerhouse.

The new administration has been understandably hesitant to embrace Ritter's energy legacy, seeking its own identity. But support and nurture the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association, the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, and others. Colorado's research and technology commercialization play is birthing companies at a nation-leading level.

Wanna "Create and market a stronger Colorado brand?" Succeed at the Blueprint's other objectives. We're risk-takers, we're independent, we're leading edge, and we're an emerging mecca for entrepreneurs. Colorado means business.

Brand it.
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Bart Taylor

Bart Taylor is the publisher of ColoradoBiz magazine. E-mail him at btaylor@cobizmag.com.

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