2009: Metro Denver, CO

Posted on May 20, 2009

2009: Metro Denver, CO

The most striking observation was the fact that many of the region’s most successful initiatives that have been instrumental in Denver’s rise as one of the nation’s premier communities were spawned put of the economic crisis of the oil bust in the mid 80s. That revelation can serve as an inspiration to us here in Gwinnett and metro Atlanta as we weather one of the worst economic recessions in decades.


PUBLIC SCHOOL: Denver Public School’s successful implementation of providing more autonomy for schools in exchange for heightened accountability. DPS’ ProComp “pay-for-performance” compensation plans also rewards teachers for meeting and exceeding expectations, links compensations to instructional outcomes and provides a bonus structure that helps the district meet staffing needs in specific schools. The result has been improving student achievement across all demographic groups.


BUSINESS-EDUCATION PARTNERSHIPS: The Adams County Consortium was created a few years ago in partnership between Adams County Economic Development and all local educational systems from K-12 to colleges. In less than five years, more than 5,100 students have attended its Career Expo and 1,000 went through its “Experience 9 to 5” mentoring program. The result has been increased overall successful completion rates for secondary and post-secondary students with increased access to career choices in local industry.


REGIONAL TRNSPORTATION: Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) is an interesting model for us to consider. The governing body of the RTD includes representation from throughout the region, and no one area of the region (including the City of Denver) dominates the RTD. The RTD manages the financing, planning and implementation of transit throughout the region, and operates the transit system region-wide. There appears to be a great sense of pride and ownership of the RTD in the eight-county Metropolitan Denver area.


TRANSIT/ROADS: There has been a history of supporting both roadway and transit improvements in the area. Unlike the Atlanta region, where quite often the opinions are that the two (roads and transit) cannot peacefully co-exist, we heard the following from one of our presenters, “While it is true that roads alone are not the answer, Roads are not the enemy.” This means that the region has moved beyond the “one or the other” mindset. This vision is critical to us solving our transportation problems in metro Atlanta and throughout the State of Georgia.


STATEWIDE TRANSPORTATION: Denver’s model for funding its FasTracks and T-Rex transportation initiatives are also worth considering as we debate how to increase state funding here in metro Atlanta and Georgia. Their process included the General Assembly statutorily giving the region the authority to hold its own referendum allowing a special local option sales tax that would be raised in and stay in the region. They added that the best plan should be clearly communicated with voters, should include increased road capacity as well as transit and projects should be under-promised and over-delivered.


ARTS: Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is a unique collaboration between rural, suburban and urban counties in the Denver region. The SCFD is funded by a small sales and use tax (1 penny on every $10 of sales and use tax) approved by residents across the region in 1988 and reaffirmed with a renewal vote in 1994. The result has been the generation and distribution of more than $591 million in grants to more than 330 arts groups of all sizes resulting in an economic impact of more than $1.7 billion.


REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Also spawned out of the deep recession of the mid 80s, what is now the Denver Metro Economic Development Council was formed as the nation’s first and only truly regional economic development entity in which many area economic development groups have joined together to represent, and further, the interests of an entire region. Its partners include 70 cities, counties, and economic development organizations in the seven-county Metro Denver and two-county Northern Colorado region. The result has been an increase in close rates on relocations between Denver and top competitors Dallas, TX and Phoenix, AZ from 20 percent in the late 80s to more than 50 percent today.


HIGHER EDUCATION: The Anschutz Medical Campus and Fitzsimmons Life Science District is a model of collaboration between the University of Colorado Denver and local hospitals and research institutions. Literally built from scratch from an abandoned army base, employment has soared from 200 at time of closure in 1997 to 17,000 in 2008 and resulted in an estimated economic impact of $6 billion per year at completion.


TARGETED INDUSTRY MARKETING: Denver’s light-hearted Colorado loves California campaign targeting CEOs and companies for expansion and relocation from the beleaguered, anti-business climate in California has resulted in a number of relocations and prospects while garnering positive national and international coverage. 72 hours after the initial campaign went live on Valentine’s Day, 25 to 30 companies reached out to the Metro Denver EDC about possible expansion or relocation. Of that original 30, 7 are currently in serious negotiations with the city.


CIDs AND REDEVELOPMENT: At the Belmar redevelopment in Lakewood, strong public private partnerships allowed for the conversion of a dying mall into a new urban downtown center. City officials had an attitude of “let’s make this work” rather than the normal “follow the rules” mentality of government. The importance of creating/allowing “out of the box” rules/regulations and tax increment funding were an important part of the equation that made Belmar and the Town Center at Aurora possible. The incorporation of green building and sustainable environmental elements such as solar and wind power was also impressive. In closing, the value of regional thinking and cooperation was another best practice that all of metro Atlanta area should attempt to adopt. They truly realize that each one’s success is dependent on the success of the other.


Through Partnership Gwinnett’s mindset, Gwinnett is leading the way with this new way of doing business, both internally (by partnering with all of our local governments, CIDs and more) and externally (by creating Georgia’s Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership, supporting Get Georgia Moving and more). But more of this regional leadership and collaboration needs to come from downtown Atlanta (as it did in Denver) if our region wants to remain world-class community.