Thursday, January 04, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Denver ~ by Suzanne Lainson

On January 4 I attended the Grassroots Initiative meeting at the State Capitol. The group's purpose is to involve citizens, businesses, and government in planning Colorado's professional, educational, and lifestyle opportunities. Approximately 100 of us met in the old Supreme Court Chambers, an appropriately stately room which features a striking collection of stained glass windows honoring Colorado's diverse ethnic heritage.

Among the highlights: Marc Holtzman, Colorado's Secretary of Technology, outlined what Governor Owens has been doing to support Colorado's high tech community. One of his important functions has been to act as "salesman-in-chief." He has traveled around the country making personal visits to the CEOs of the major tech companies. These face-to-face meetings have been an effective way for Governor Owens to demonstrate Colorado's commitment to high tech and to encourage these companies to set up operations in Colorado, which increasingly they are doing. This administration wants quality growth, but not, stressed Secretary Holtzman, growth at any price.

Joe Snell, executive director of the Metro Denver Network, talked about Colorado's boom-and-bust history and how, in 1997, the members of MDN began to ask, "Where are we headed?" They commissioned a study to determine what will be the region's economic drivers in 2020. These were the industries: data storage, software, telecom services, telecom equipment, and biomed. The next step was to talk to CEOs to find out what they needed. A trained labor pool they said. As a way to attract more high tech professionals to the area, MDN then embarked on a branding campaign to increase national awareness of Colorado as a high tech center. Not wanting to be just another Silicon wannabe and in recognition of Colorado's diverse tech base, MDN went with "The Convergence Corridor." (Colorado's tech region runs along 1-25 from Ft. Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south.)

John Hansen, president of the Colorado Institute of Technology, explained his program, which was conceived by Governor Owens to provide the necessary workers for Colorado's tech economy. We want to attract businesses while keeping the population at a manageable level. That means developing local talent. "We need to grow our own." Funding for CIT is being raised from the corporations that will benefit from its efforts. Fifteen percent will be spent on K-12 programs. The rest will used for higher education. The goal is to double the number of trained technology workers in five years. One urgent need is to find more college teachers. There is an academic brain drain as professors leave low-paying teaching jobs for high-paying industry jobs. Toward that end, the CIT would like to see more working professionals volunteer to teach classes at community colleges and for businesses that hire professors to make them available to teach on a part-time basis.

Andre Pettigrew, VP of marketing for FASTIDEAS Incubator, talked about the importance of critical mass so people can easily move from companies which are downsizing to companies which are just starting up. The key is making sure job seekers and entrepreneurs know where to find each other.

And on that note, I'll mention that Denver is having its first Pink Slip party on January 25, hosted by interactive public relations and marketing firm LH3. It's going to be at the REI Auditorium, which is reason enough to check it out. (This is the REI store to end all REI stores.) Recruiters and climbing walls. What more could anyone want?