To grow locally it’s time to think regionally

Here is my slide show from the Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture held on February 24th.

My comments emphasized four key points. First, the recession is over. Second, Colorado’s recovery is lagging the US. Third, there is no guarantee that Colorado will bounce back quicker than the US. Finally, Colorado needs to enhance regional cooperation to leverage its key assets.

Related to the final point, one of the observations I have been talking a lot about lately is that Colorado is sometimes not what we think it is. By that, I mean that while we think of the Centennial State (particularly the Front Range) as highly populated and somewhat congested, we really are not so much so when compared to the coasts. (And for the most part, economic activity in the US is concentrated on the coasts.)

The state faces two important spatial challenges. First is remoteness; we are FAR from the coasts, where markets are large and capital is concentrated. But we are also challenged by smallness. In particular, while our population is highly educated, we don’t have the thickness of talent as cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, DC. And lacking the talent density relative to other places, it is sometimes hard to truly compete in the innovation economy.

So what do we do? Well, we can’t move closer to the coasts, so reducing remoteness is not really a policy option. But we can overcome smallness–even without adding people. How? Leveraging and investing in talent across communities in Colorado through our workforce and economic development systems can make our state act bigger. It’s time to think beyond communities and even counties, and start a serious dialog about how regional talent pools can fuel innovation and job growth in the state.

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