Boulder looks into its future and sees some very big changes


Panelists on the future of digital media in Boulder were, left to right, Winston Binch, partner, Crispin Porter + Bogusky; Seth Levine, managing director, Foundry Group; and Chris Scoggins, senior vice president, DataLogix. 

Boulder business, education
and government leaders took a look into the future 25 years from now and saw
everything from a much older population and a shrinking employment base to a
digital media and outdoor recreation Mecca that continues to attract

But as University of Colorado
economist Richard Wobbekind reminded attendees at the 2010 Economic Summit on
the University of Colorado campus Wednesday, in the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s
tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That said, there were no
shortage of experts from the hot business sectors of clean tech, digital media,
natural & organic foods, outdoor recreation and biotech willing to stick
their necks out and make a forecast. The theme for the well-attended summit,
sponsored by the Boulder Economic Council and CU, was “Boulder in 2035:
Opportunities & Insights.”

 First, a few of the facts,
emphasized by both business research statistics from CU and generally what
everyone that lives in Boulder already knows.

 “Boulder has drawn a line in
the sand,” said David Driskell, director of community planning and
sustainability for the city. “We’re not going to grow out, we’re going to grow

Redevelopment of Boulder
areas such as its east Arapaho corridor (near CU’s developing east campus) and
the aging Diagonal Marketplace retail center are where the city will be placing
its attention.

The reality, Driskell
emphasized, is that Boulder will never be all things to all people.  And that no doubt includes businesses
looking for larger manufacturing facilities. “We’re going to continue to
incubate startups,” he said.

If you just happened to move
into the city and somehow remain oblivious to Boulder’s staunch slow-growth
philosophy, several charts and graphs from Wobbekind put some new wrinkles on a
well-known story.

For a city that’s long touted
its place as an entrepreneurial haven for high tech, the numbers now show
employment in advanced tech sectors are actually declining. Technology brings
higher productivity, Wobbekind explained, resulting in fewer jobs for high-tech
workers. The most recent example? Hewlett-Packard’s announcement of some 9,000
layoffs from its technology-services division, where data centers will become
fully automated.

In the recent recession, more
than 70 percent of the lost wages in Colorado occurred in advanced tech sectors
that included professional services, manufacturing and information.

In other not-so-shocking news
for anyone who’s been in Boulder for very long, Wobbekind forecasted a nearly
flat growth rate through 2035, for both employment and population growth, while
“satellite” cities like Broomfield, Longmont and Erie will continue to attract
new jobs and increase their populations.

Another Boulder Valley city,
Louisville, which is making a conscious decision to limit housing but
encouraging commercial growth, also may find its job growth limited as
employers seek out cities where their employees can find homes.

“It’s just not getting any
cheaper to live in Boulder or Louisville,” Wobbekind said.

High on Wobbekind’s list of
changing demographics not to be ignored is the fact that Boulder, like all of
Colorado, is aging.

Everyone who moved in during
the growth years of the ‘70s and ‘80s are now nearing retirement age. In the
city of Boulder alone, Wobbekind says the 55 to 69 age group and those over 70
will have the most dramatic increase in numbers in the next 25 years.

Services such as health care
and transportation, as well as a declining tax base as seniors reduce their
spending, are all areas to watch, he said.

Although rail and other
multi-modal transportation choices may become available, expect an increase in
commuters driving cars in search of job centers. Even shorter trips are going
to take longer due to congestion.

Not all forecasters, however,
bemoaned a future of gray-haired senior citizens clogging up the freeways.

Panelists looking at the future
of digital media reminded summit attendees that Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a
global advertising company billing $1.7 billion annually, came to Boulder
because it knew the city’s quality of life would attract the younger talent it
needs to survive and grow.

Looking very far ahead is
nearly impossible in the fast-changing digital world, said Winston Binch, a
partner with CP+B. “Just figuring out what will happen next week is a

The company is moving much of
its work to the mobile platforms, as the I-Pad and millions of new mobile phone
apps dramatically change the way businesses reach their new customers.

You’ll soon be using your
phone to buy your Starbucks and display your airline-boarding pass, Binch said.
“Social commerce,” he predicted, is here to stay.

Foundry Group venture
capitalist Seth Levine said the rise of digital media is allowing marketers to
measure their results like never before.

Social media and software
geeks are the new “Mad Men” of the advertising world, Levine said, and Boulder,
with resident companies like OneRiot, Lijit, video ad network SpotXchange, creative
agency Victors & Spoils and even Google, are creating a “nexus” of
communication companies for the future.

With CP+B helping to launch
the Boulder Digital Works with CU, and other tech gatherings like Glue or TechStars
gaining national attention, Boulder continues to stir up a pot of the right
ingredients for digital media success.

Boulder also continues to grow
its reputation as an epicenter for both the natural and organics food movement
and outdoor recreation and sporting goods companies.

Organic foods veteran Barney
Feinblum predicted that the word “natural” will probably disappear from food
labeling as “organic” becomes the accepted standard. As an example, he pointed
out that organic milk producer Horizon is now the leading brand of milk being
sold in the U.S.

While organic products today are
only about 3.5 percent of the market, he believes price premiums will decline,
and organic goods will capture up to  25 percent of the food market in the next 25 years.

A company like Whole Foods,
Feinblum said, will expand beyond organic and healthy foods to selling electric
cars and home renewable energy systems.

“Our industry is looking to
get ahead of the curve on sustainability,” explained Lori Herra with the Outdoor
Industry Association. And this presents environmental challenges when most of
the outdoor recreation products are manufactured overseas.

Even on the federal level,
Herra said, the conversation is starting to change from “extraction” on federal
lands to recognizing the economic strengths of “recreation.”

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