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Posted: February 01, 2011

Rundles wrap-up: Remarkable

Jeff Rundles

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Over the years many newspaper articles have touted the "net migration" of people into Colorado, and they always include comment from economic development types that this proves "how attractive Colorado can be to recruit new workers."

This is always hogwash, but I guess it makes for a good story. The latest came out in January, using statistics from Allied Van Lines that purported that Colorado was second only to Texas as a relocation destination. The moving company said 2,190 new households arrived in Colorado in 2010, while 1,786 departed, leaving a net gain of 404 families. What a shocker.

King Soopers should build another supermarket. The Broncos and the Rockies better expand their stadiums. Gov. Hickenlooper should hire a new pollster. Is Welcome Wagon hiring? That this is a non-story is axiomatic. It also shows the sorry state of journalism - get a press release, trot out unemployment statistics, get quotes from the requisite chamber types; half-hour tops, depending on phone availability.

It begs for more information. First, it's just Allied, so presumably there was more migration in and out involving other van lines, U-Haul, and just people who packed up and moved without professional assistance. Second, it says nothing about why people came here other than Colorado's attractiveness. The more interesting number is not the net gain, but the fact that nearly 4,000 families were on the move. I remember a similar story nearly 20 years ago when the statistics were more stunning.

In the early 1990s, an in-migration article said some 100,000 people came to Colorado, while about 90,000 left, leaving a net of 10,000 or so new Coloradans. I wrote about that back then because I also felt that the overall movement - 190,000 people - was more interesting than the net gain. What's on my mind now are the reasons and what we can do to foster a better Colorado. A ton of families left the state. Why? Where did they go? What jobs did they leave and why? What jobs are they going to and why?

 A ton of people came here. For what, specifically? Those who left were attracted to somewhere else and repelled by Colorado. Why? What could we do to lessen the departures and increase the arrivals? Now that would be a good story. Economic development is a tough business, but it is practiced in Colorado in the most superficial fashion. Those engaged in the activity talk a lot about attractiveness - that we're Colorado, not the Rust Belt - and there are tax incentives and tax-increment financing schemes that, when successful, prove the viability of Colorado as a business destination, and when unsuccessful show how uncompetitive we are in our offerings.

We lose a lot - Miller Coors, Boeing, the United Airlines maintenance facility, the Superconducting Super Collider - and we win a few - ConocoPhillips and the StorageTek property, maybe. What we lack is focus. A few weeks ago, a new governor took over, John Hickenlooper, and in his inaugural address he said his administration's "highest priority" is jobs.

He promised three executive orders to get the ball rolling: 1) requiring the state to work with local communities in designing economic development plans; 2) the creation of the Governor's Trade and Tourism Ambassador Program to enlist Colorado businesses to promote the state; and, 3) have the state work with counties with "more flexibility and less bureaucracy."

Repetition. Rehash. Rhetoric. What we need is a plan. We need the answers to the questions I asked earlier: Why? For what? Where? And then we need to focus on building our strengths and alleviating our weaknesses from a business point of view. Business tax rates should be reviewed at the state and local level. Our education system, particularly higher education, needs to be bolstered. We need to decide what we want to be when we grow up, and it needs to be more than "attractive."

What we need is Remarkable.
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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

My auto parts business is for sale and I DO find that the majority of prospects have some sort of "special" attraction for Colorado. By John Wray on 2011 02 14
The state doesn't even buy from local businesses. they do most of their contacting at the state level with a "bid" system that begs for fraud and misuse. The local employees know better, but their hands are tied. By John Wray on 2011 02 14

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