‘Don’t go after kids,’ jobs expert counsels

High-tech folks seeking quality of life are best fit

Tom Clark

The Western Slope’s economic expansion hopes are best pegged to high-tech companies and employees more interested in schools for their children than young college grads wanting to be in the middle of the action, the former head of Denver’s economic development arm said.

“Don’t go after kids,” Tom Clark said Saturday at the Colorado Cooperation Conference at the DoubleTree Hotel.

Better to seek out companies led by people who are more interested in such things as schools, outdoor recreation and other, non-business-related amenities.

He learned that lesson the hard way when surveying high-tech economic-development prospects for Denver, said Clark, who retired this spring after 14 years as chief executive officer of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

Young graduates wanted to be in Silicon Valley, “where the action is,” Clark said, while older, more settled but still ambitious types wanted to be in Colorado.

“The same kind of dynamic is going on here,” Clark said, referring to the Western Slope. “And housing is a lot cheaper.”

The importance of a university in economic development can’t be understated, said Clark, who also said he wished he had taken greater advantage of Colorado State University when working in Fort Collins.

Incentives don’t have the power they once might have had in trying to attract companies, Clark said, but they also can’t be ignored.

Locales and states that don’t offer some kind of incentive to prospects take themselves out of the game even before they can pitch the attributes they hope would otherwise win over companies looking to relocate or expand, he said.

Economic developers ought not hide blemishes, he said, noting that prospects have commented to him that the corporation’s website doesn’t always paint a rosy picture.

Prospects, however, will find out about things on their own, he said, so there’s no need to cover them up.

“We have won deals because we told the truth,” Clark said.

Clark now serves on the Colorado Economic Development Commission and he was replaced as head of Metro Denver by J.J. Ament, who told the conference that while prospects look for incentives, they also want a level of assurance that they’ll get what they were told would await them.

“People want predictability and stability,” Ament said.


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