Our secret is out–Colorado is an amazing place to live and the rest of the country has finally caught on. According to the Colorado Tourism Bureau, nearly 78 million people visited the state within the last year. Recent tax-return data from the IRS reports almost two-thirds of households within the Denver-metro area were newly relocated within county lines. While the mile-high city of Denver has experienced the bulk of the population boom, the entire metro area has surged in numbers. Among the cities experiencing massive growth is the longtime-tourist-favorite, Boulder.
While tourism continues to be a leading economic driver for the city, accounting for over half a billion dollars in 2015, the influx of people making the permanent move to Boulder has never been higher. Within the last year, an estimated 107,000+ have made their home within the county. Locals will tell you it’s all about quality of life.
The city itself is beautiful. From Pearl Street to the Flatirons, Boulder never disappoints when it comes aesthetics. The small but mighty city offers a unique and incredible selection of culture, dining, entertainment and shopping options, as well as excellent schools, excellent healthcare, and endless outdoor recreation to keep any adrenaline junkie satisfied. The people are welcoming and friendly; the sense of community is one the locals are proud of. These factors alone have been enough to bring in the masses, but what many people may not realize is that Boulder is quickly becoming the country’s hot spot for entrepreneurs, rivaling even Silicon Valley.
Within the last year alone, venture capital investment has been over $205 million, accounting for more than a quarter of the total for all Colorado companies. Start-up businesses and successful corporations alike are flocking the city limits. And Boulder welcomes them with open arms, in fact, they celebrate it. So much so that the Boulder Chamber annually hosts an event called Esprit, a celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation. Start-up businesses from all industries are invited to compete in the Esprit Venture Challenge for a chance at $10,000; established leaders within the entrepreneurial community are recognized for their accomplishments. In 2016, University of Colorado students were crowned as the Venture Challenge champions for their impressive start-up dating app, Qualify. During the same celebration, the Boulder Chamber named Dave Wright, founder of SolidFire, as the Entrepreneur of the Year. An impressive example of a (local lingo) “Boulderpreneur,” Wright founded SolidFire in 2009 from the ground up to become a leader in the All Flash Array market, eventually serving customers across the globe. In February of 2016 he sold SolidFire to NetApp for $870 million.
So what is about Boulder that entrepreneurs find so appealing? Aside from the obvious perks described above, the city also happens to be the site of an outstanding collision of industries, resulting in an economic phenomenon unlike any other—in the world.
In a city with a population just over 100,000, spanning just under 28 square miles, a $22 billion dollar economy is quite rightly, staggering. Even more staggering, is that a city of that size is home to six leading industries: aerospace, bioscience, cleantech, IT-software, natural products and outdoor recreation—most cities are lucky to have one. What is even more interesting is the fact that all of these industries, despite how different they are from one another, have come together in the most fluid and unexpected way-unexpected that is, if you don’t know Boulder.
Where it all began:
We could start at the very beginning, 1871, when Boulder was officially incorporated, or 1877, when it became home to the state’s first public university; but the where history really becomes interesting is 1952–the year Boulder was chosen as the site of Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons facility funded by the federal government. From there, the aerospace industry took flight. Ball Aerospace and Technology officially formed in 1956, building the foundation of an industry that today hosts 44 different aerospace firms, 11.4 times the national average! The advantages of this city are robust: Boulder boasts the most highly educated population in the nation, the state of Colorado is the second-most highly educated state in the nation; CU-Boulder’s highly rated Aerospace Sciences Program receives more funding from NASA than any other public university in the country. Further, Aerospace opened the door for another economic driver in research.
Several federally funded research laboratories have found a home in Boulder, including CASA, LASP, NCA, NIST and NOAA. The city is also home to private sector research and the University of Colorado Boulder is one of only thirty-four public research universities invited to join the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) and the alma mater to four National Medal of Science winners and more than fifty members of prestigious academic academies.
It’s not surprising that with such a high concentration of highly educated residents and abundance of resources that other innovative industries have made Boulder home. Bioscience labs like Amgen; cleantech companies like juwi; and software development like IBM have also found common ground in this Colorado city.
The local residents, also known as Boulderites, also have a reputation for being health-nuts. Boulder is surrounded by over 45,000 acres of open space and has over 150 miles of public hiking and biking trails. Further, the city is only a short drive away from multiple national parks and ski resorts. Such close proximity to world-class skiing, hiking, biking, etc. allows for an easy. The “work hard, play hard” environment is exactly what attracted outdoor rec companies like Spyder, HEAD and Polar Bottle, among dozens of others. This healthy lifestyle status quo has also opened the door for the natural product business.
Mo Siegel, Colorado native and founder of Celestial Seasonings, paved the way for many other well known brands including Justin’s, Boulder Brands (Earth Balance, Udi’s, EVOL Foods, Glutino), and Ancient Harvest. Boulder proved to be the perfect market for brands to test on before trying to move into the bigger, higher-risk markets. As it happens, this methodology proved to be highly effective and successful.
What is clear to any observer is the culmination of industries brought together in Boulder is truly something special and the impact on the city itself has been tremendous. What the future holds for Boulder is something we can only speculate, but we can be sure it will be bright.