Wood: Regional eco-devo agencies step up

As one might expect in the midst of the most-severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, economic developers in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado have been working overtime.

The global pandemic and resulting restrictions and mandatory shutdowns have prompted local economic-development agencies to pivot, not only in how they do business but also in the types of businesses that they help.

Recently, as part of BizWest’s Economic Forecast event, I moderated a roundtable discussion with 10 economic developers from Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties.

The panel included both officials with private-sector organizations and governmental offices, and I wanted to learn about how they have shifted the way they operate as they attempt to respond to unprecedented challenges.

Their answers were enlightening.

First of all, it became clear that the pandemic has accelerated the erosion of municipal boundaries, at least figuratively. These agencies are cooperating as never before, with some even integrating tasks and objectives. Things are getting done, including creation of NoCoRecovers.com, a one-stop shop for information on recovery resources. As one panelist noted, something that might have taken many months to launch pre-COVID, with seemingly endless back-and-forth reviews, in some cases was accomplished in days or weeks.

Eco-devo groups have collaborated with Small Business Development Centers, chambers of commerce, municipal, county and state governments, and any other organization that could help with relief efforts, including dissemination of information.

Another change that COVID has wrought has been in what sectors these agencies seek to help. Traditionally, economic-development agencies have focused on primary jobs — those high-paying occupations that effectively “spin off” additional jobs, sometimes at a multiplier of 2.5 or more.

But while traditionally targeted industries — think aerospace, technology, life sciences, energy, etc. — remain a focus, eco-devo groups have increasingly widened their attention to businesses on Main Street. From restaurants to retailers to hospitality, sectors that have been devastated by COVID-19 have benefited from efforts of regional economic-development agencies.

Eco-devo groups have gone where the need is greatest, even as they continue to work with their traditional targets.

Increasingly, and even before the Economic Forecast event, BizWest has heard from numerous agencies that they were working to ensure that any economic recovery fully encompasses individuals and enterprises that have historically been disadvantaged. Too often, good economic times don’t always extend to minority populations, or to minority- or women-owned businesses.

But regional groups are developing programs to address that disparity. One example is the Longmont Economic Development Partnership, which has made development of an inclusive economy a top priority. The organization has even hired a collective-impact coordinator to shepherd the effort.

Economic developers were quick to point out that not every industry sector has been suffering during the downturn. Some industries are doing quite well, including aerospace, life sciences, residential real estate, technology, manufacturing.

That provides a solid base on which the economy can eventually recover. As COVID vaccines work through the population, the expectation is that Main Street businesses will bounce back, leading to better times ahead.

It’s comforting to know that local economic development groups are able and willing to provide necessary resources in the meantime.

Christopher Wood can be reached

at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or