Published: May 21, 2014

2014 Boulder Economic Summit taking on local, state manufacturing

Boulder Daily Camera
By Alicia Wallace
Camera Business Writer
Posted:   05/21/2014 11:28:53 AM MDT | Updated:   about 4 hours ago

Economic gains by Boulder County and Colorado manufacturing businesses are at their highest-ever levels. and those companies are well positioned to benefit from a potential "American industrial renaissance," University of Colorado economist Richard Wobbekind said Wednesday.

Wobbekind spoke about national, statewide and local manufacturing trends at the 2014 Boulder Economic Summit on Wednesday morning at the Millennium Harvest House.

The focus of this year's summit, entitled "Made in Boulder," was about the manufacturing industry's health and future in Boulder and Colorado.

In Boulder County, manufacturing jobs make up 10 percent of overall employment as compared to 6 percent for Colorado, he said. The "big dogs" of the region's manufacturing industry are in two segments: computers and electronics, and also chemical, which includes biotechnology companies.

The region also has strengths in the manufacturing of food and beverages and for outdoor products. The boom in craft beer has helped to drive a 30 percent growth in the region's beverage manufacturing industry during a recent three-year period, Wobbekind said.

The city of Boulder or Boulder County may not become hubs in areas such as transportation equipment and fabricated metal — two sectors that have seen the largest job gains nationally — but the concentration in areas such as advanced manufacturing have served as drivers for the local economy, he said.

"I think the things we do, we seem to be pretty darn good at doing right now," Wobbekind said.

Boulder County's prevalence of data-focused firms also bodes well for the future.

"I think that's really, really driving innovation in this area at a really high level, and I think that's where manufacturing is going," he said.

Some economists, Wobbekind added, believe that an "American Industrial Renaissance" is occurring and being driven by factors such as comparable wages, lower energy costs and companies bringing manufacturing operations either back to U.S. soil or at least closer to the nation's shores.

On the state government level, Colorado has undertaken initiatives aimed at capitalizing on existing industries and positioning the state as "the most innovative" in the nation, said Ken Lund, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, who also spoke at the summit.

"We needed a focus ... a way to align resources beyond any other state's means," he said.

That involved weaving together an ecosystem that included universities, federal labs, high-growth entrepreneurs, government and businesses in the Colorado Innovation Network, a public-private partnership program, Lund said.