Economist Rich Wobbekind named among Colorado's most influential business leaders.
In ranking Rich Wobbekind among its 30 most influential business leaders, BizWest magazine said he “probably ranks as the most-sought-after voice on the Colorado economy.”
That characterization is likely to draw criticism from those who’ve benefited from Wobbekind’s insights over more than three decades with the University of Colorado Boulder: What do they mean, “probably?”
“Rich is so deserving of this honor because has a unique ability to interpret a complex set of economic data for a broad variety of audiences,” said Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Business Research Division at the Leeds School of Business. “And while most people think about industry in Colorado in terms of tourism, or tech, or urban areas, Rich is as capable talking about agriculture and mining as he is finance.”
Wobbekind and the BRD develop an annual economic forecast for Colorado that he presents at a statewide conference. But he also takes those insights on the road, where he shares tailored presentation at smaller events in more rural areas of the state, as well as in the classroom.
“I’ve been really fortunate in that, through my work, I’m able to help people interpret what they’re seeing in a larger context,” Wobbekind said. “They’re trying to make sense of all these issues they’re facing—COVID, supply-chain issues, inflation—and we’re trying to give them a sense of what to expect, and convey information that helps them make better decisions in business and live better lives.”
The BizWest list is a who’s who of influential Coloradans in entrepreneurship, banking, law, nonprofit, government, healthcare, media and manufacturing; Wobbekind, associate dean for business and government relations at Leeds and the BRD's faculty director, is the only economist.
“There are a lot of significant people on that list, people I have a lot of respect for. I am honored to be included among them,” he said.
Wobbekind has been a fixture at CU Boulder since earning his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics 35 years ago. In that time, much about the field of economics has changed—including, like in many fields, the ability to use data to understand trends and make decisions—but what he said hasn’t changed is the discipline’s ability to add context to situations and form actionable strategy, a perspective he readily brings to the classroom.
“In our economics classes, we’re teaching students the tools to help them be better managers and make better decisions, whether that’s in hiring, or anticipating product demand, or looking at interest rates or inflation,” he said. “There’s a lot of value in having the skills to interpret the broader environment you’re working in.”
That’s especially evident in the extensive outreach he does to the Colorado business community. His traveling road show takes him from the Front Range to the Western Slope and the eastern plains, and from advisory meetings with the government to small, industry-specific sessions to people in agriculture, technology or banking.
Something that might surprise anyone who’s sat in one of his classes or attended the annual Business Economic Outlook Forum is that, for all his poise on stage, Wobbekind isn’t immune to a case of nerves before he starts talking.
“That’s even true on the first day of classes, I try to figure out something to say to calm myself down,” he said. “But ultimately, when you’re providing this kind of information and interpretation, and you see the reaction of people in the audience and you hear their questions and know they’re learning something that will help them make decisions—that’s the best cure for being nervous.
“At the end of the day, I hope I am contributing to people having better lives—I believe that’s what we’re here for.”