A nod to the godfather
To know Tom Clark is to know the story of Denver’s transformation from a smog-choked city trying to rebound from its own boom-bust energy rut of the early 1980s to the economic powerhouse that millennials flock to today.
The long-term strategy he developed with other key players 30 years ago has made the Front Range metro area the envy of economic development chiefs across the country.
Clark recently stepped down as the CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
He’s synonymous with several bricks-and-mortar projects that have shaped the Denver metro area: Denver International Airport, the city’s commuter rail system, the stadium at Mile High, Coors Field and the Colorado Convention Center, to name a few. But his legacy is more about the way he set the table for business — through collaborations and by leveraging amenities and quality of life into workforce development gains.
Unbeknown to most, western Colorado has always had an ally in Clark. His organization has had a seat on the Grand Junction Economic Partnership board for years. So he’s familiar with our challenges, which aren’t that much different from the ones Denver faced 30 years ago.
Clark, 68, was in town Saturday for the Colorado Cooperation Conference. The most important address during commencement week didn’t take place at a school. When someone with Clark’s résumé offers economic-development tips, best to listen.
For all of its economic frenzy, Denver isn’t necessarily the Colorado visitors might be expecting. The traffic, the infuriating commutes, the longer-than-anticipated treks to interact with nature, the expensive housing — combine to make other communities in Colorado without these issues more attractive by comparison. We’re decades from that problem zone.
Grand Junction’s best bet isn’t catering to recent graduates, but appealing to companies led by people who are interested in things like good schools, outdoor recreation and affordable housing, Clark said. Do the things that appeal to these more settled, but still-ambitious professionals and we’ll begin laying the foundation for a vibrant, buzzy city that will eventually attract younger people.
Grand Junction has several ingredients for a winning recipe. It has a university providing exposure of the area to future professionals. It has incentive packages that give us a competitive footing for expansions and relocations. It has a history of collaboration for civic improvement and public-private partnerships.
In reviewing his achievements on the MDEDC website, Clark said one of the smart things the Denver business community has done is to be the “first money in” to support community investment.
When business engages with government, as opposed to standing on the sidelines nodding or opposing, it “creates a really different dynamic,” he said.
These observations — by the godfather of economic development in Colorado — suggest that one of the most important collaborations we can undertake is to have the business community lead an effort to pass local funding initiatives to improve our schools.
Let’s hope it culminates in an offer we can’t refuse.