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 July 1, 1999

Brain drain’ could deter e-commerce growth here

Colorado’s proliferation of high-tech growth along the Front Range can be either a blessing and a curse to the e-commerce field. As more start-ups are created by high-tech entrepreneurs, more trained labor is needed to fill the positions. Some fear that a “brain-drain” is on the horizon.

“The supply of skilled labor is drying up,” claims Boulder Technology Incubator Director Jerry Donahue.”We’re seeing a reasonable amount of pirating (companies engaging in a bidding war for top talent.) There may come a point at which there is no more quality labor. Companies will stop growing and start expanding in other areas where they can find skilled labor.

Marc Hotlzman, a member of Gov. Bill Owens’ cabinet, says “our number one problem is the lack of skilled high-tech workers to fill opportunity right now. U S West estimates that we are short 5,000 skilled workers today. That number could increase to 30,000 to 50,000 over the next five years.”

Whether that condition applies to the e-commerce field is too early to tell.

Mike Bearup, with Arthur Anderson Consulting in Denver, agrees. “I think one of the real issues is …. finding and recruiting and maintaining tech and not-so-tech talent is difficult. As a result, you’re having to be very creative in establishing benefits packages, like whether or not you get to bring your dog to work, etc.”

All agree the key to preventing a brain drain lies in the cooperation between the state of Colorado and private industry. “The state and industry are going to have to collaborate, not only on designing better, more accelerated training programs, but also in funding those programs,” according to Donahue.

Holtzman says the state university system is doing only an “average” job at meeting the needs of the private sector. “Our state university system is practicing supply-side economics when it comes to meeting industry’s needs.”

The governor’s office is looking to raise in excess of $100 million to create a Colorado Institute of Technology. The effort, modeled after a $60 million campaign to create a technology institute in Nebraska, ultimately would seek to compete with stalwarts like the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bearup believes that would be an important component, but there needs to be a close examination of how to make sure that training for the entire workforce stays current. “We’ve got a workforce that has to be educated every three to four years,” says Bearup. “You have machinery that has an increasing amount of embedded technology, and you’re not going to trust that to someone without a college degree.”

— Jose Marichal

Colorado’s proliferation of high-tech growth along the Front Range can be either a blessing and a curse to the e-commerce field. As more start-ups are created by high-tech entrepreneurs, more trained labor is needed to fill the positions. Some fear that a “brain-drain” is on the horizon.

“The supply of skilled labor is drying up,” claims Boulder Technology Incubator Director Jerry Donahue.”We’re seeing a reasonable amount of pirating (companies engaging in a bidding war for top talent.) There may come a point at which there is no more quality labor. Companies will stop growing and…

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