From Colorado - Business Comes To Life

The State of SMART

Colorado boasts a standout workforce steeped in tech.

Talent & Workforce
Colorado is a leading hub of technology companies and technology workers.
Photos: Getty Images


t takes a special workforce to propel an economy that’s as technologically driven as Colorado’s. Giants of the aerospace, cloud computing, life sciences, cybersecurity, engineering and renewables industries are among those that have made increasingly conspicuous pivots to cities like Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. 

The examples are legion. Fortune 500 stalwarts such as Amazon, Meta and Arrow Electronics all have established major outposts in Denver. Blue Origin, the rocket maker, recently moved in. Lockheed Martin, with facilities scattered across Colorado, has had a presence in the state for more than half a century. Medtronic and Eli Lilly recently completed major expansions in the Boulder area. With noteworthy regularity, project announcements cite “talent” as the prime factor for locating and growing in Colorado.

“We have a special situation here in Colorado,” said Christian Carlson, director of state and local government sales for Esri, the Silicon Valley-based pioneer in global satellite intelligence, explaining the group’s decision to expand its operations near Boulder and hire 250 new staff members. “Our team is made up,” Carlson said, “of some of the most talented geospatial professionals in the industry.”

As a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder — what he calls “the Harvard of the Rockies”— and now senior vice president in the Denver office of JLL, the commercial real estate services company, Joe Heath knows the landscape well.

“All of these technologies and all of this talent converge in places like Denver and Boulder,” he says, “and companies have found that it’s a great place to recruit and hire. We’ve always had a lot of in-migration from the coasts, including very highly paid scientists.”

And why do they come to Colorado?

“Simply put,” he believes, “it’s quality of life. We have 300 days of sunshine and a beautiful climate. It’s an amazing backdrop, set against the mountains. It’s a very healthy, vibrant community and just a magnet for people who want to live here.”

By the Numbers

In its most recent 50-state survey of the nation’s technology workforce, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) identified Colorado as having the fifth highest concentration of tech workers nationally. The group’s “State of the Workforce” report showed that Colorado added more than 3,600 technology workers in 2021, seventh highest among the states that recorded tech job growth. The report, CompTIA stated, “reaffirms Colorado’s status as a leading hub for technology companies and workers.”

A host of other reports, indices and analyses serve to demonstrate the singularity of Colorado’s workforce, ranked No.1 for 2022 in CNBC’s Best States for Business, which identified Colorado as fourth overall. Cerebral Boulder has consistently ranked as the nation’s brainiest city in Bloomberg’s Brain Concentration Index, which measures business growth and the concentration of STEM workers. Fort Collins joined the list at No. 11 in Bloomberg’s most recent such ranking, and Denver has repeatedly ranked in the top 10.

Further supporting evidence comes from the personal finance website WalletHub, which ranks Colorado second in the nation in Educational Attainment, “with the highest percentage of associate’s degree holders or college-experienced adults and the second-highest percentage of bachelor’s degree holders.” Some 44% of Colorado adults have at least a bachelor’s.

“The world-class higher institutions in and around the state churn out numerous market-ready graduates every year,” states a report by Insogna CPA, an Austin, Texas–based accounting firm that serves businesses nationwide. “If having the right people to work with is a priority for your business, we don’t think you need any other business relocation justification in Colorado.”

Industry Is All-In

Companies that locate in Colorado enter an ecosystem that promotes ground-up, lifelong learning — “a community,” says Lee Wheeler-Berliner, “that is committed to supporting individuals to grow and to provide the right types of skills that are necessary for industry to thrive.” As director of the Colorado Workforce Development Council, Wheeler-Berliner manages statewide strategies for industry-led talent development. 

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“Here,” he says, “there’s a real focus on career and technical education within our high school system and an understanding that that career planning can get started in elementary schools in terms of exposure to different pathways and opportunities. And, as a state,” he says, “we promote the concept of lifelong learning and a realization that you can’t get a degree when you’re 22 or 25 and assume that’s going to carry you through the next 45 years.”

Industry partnerships have proved to be a key component of that. Employers such as Lockheed Martin, Ball Aerospace and Boeing partner with community colleges, sit on local workforce development boards, make pitches to K-12 classrooms and sponsor internships that can lead to full-time jobs. Lockheed Martin, which has donated close to a million dollars to promote STEM education in Denver Public Schools, recently hired seven students and graduates of Arapahoe Community College (ACC) in Littleton through a program that offers experiential learning on the way to potential employment. 

“This collaboration,” said ACC Computer Networking Technology Program Chair Nina Amey, “supports a pipeline of talented professionals for in-demand careers in cybersecurity, secure software development and computer science.”

Ball’s STEM Pros in Schools program (SPS) provides a platform for students and teachers in Colorado’s K-12 system to interact with STEM role models. Ball professionals share insights into their careers and educational paths and their work on science and technology missions. K-12 student teams from seven Colorado schools took part last July in the annual Student Rocket Launch sponsored by Ball and United Launch Alliance, which is headquartered in Centennial. The unique collaboration gives students hands-on experience working with rockets and payloads, with the aim of inspiring a new generation of scientists, engineers and space entrepreneurs.

“We have engaged employers in our ecosystem,” says Wheeler-Berliner. “It ensures we’ve got alignment in what’s being taught at the K-12 level, and at community colleges, technical colleges and bachelor’s-granting institutions, as well.”

Facing Forward

It’s an ecosystem in motion, unwilling to rest. Demonstrating Colorado’s commitment to “earn and learn” programs that lead to high-paying jobs and bolster the state’s talent pipeline, Gov. Jared Polis signed legislation in 2021 to establish a State Apprenticeship Agency to accelerate the growth of apprenticeships and oversee statewide apprenticeship programs. 

“In an economy transformed by technological advances including automation, artificial intelligence and digitization, the need for on-the-job training has become critical.” said the Colorado Department of Labor and Education (CDLE) in a statement. “Apprenticeships help workers gain skills and education while earning a paycheck, and employers need a reliable workforce pipeline to ensure their long-term success.”

Responding to lingering challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic faced by the state’s expanding healthcare industry, the Colorado legislature in 2022 approved a program that allocated $26 million toward tuition, fees and apprenticeship assistance to help Coloradans gain training as nurses, EMTs, medical assistants and certified nursing assistants. The legislation also put $20 million toward the purchase of simulation labs, robotics labs and other training aids for accredited nursing programs.

Going into the legislature’s 2023 session, Gov. Jared Polis proposed a two-year, $70 million expansion of the program to include such trades as law enforcement, construction, advanced manufacturing, forestry and fire prevention.

“What we’ve found,” said Gov. Polis, “is that when the price [of education] goes down, the demand goes up. To be able to make this program work, it must be priced so that someone can train for the future while they are working another job in another industry like hospitality.”

The Colorado Workforce Development Council, which promotes Career Pathways in Information Technology, Cybersecurity, Construction, Healthcare, Business Operations, Retail, Behavioral Health and Public Health, recently added new pathways in Transportation, Advanced Manufacturing and Renewable Energy. The latter dovetails with Gov. Polis’s goal of establishing Colorado as a leader in the clean energy economy.

There’s a message being sent, believes Wheeler-Berliner.

“Colorado,” he says, “is open for business. When we look at opportunities for the direction of our economy, we know that there are opportunities to grow within the state, and opportunities to welcome more people and more companies to Colorado.” 

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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