When songwriter John Denver composed his famous tune Rocky Mountain High in 1972, his lyrics were meant to describe the sense of peace he found in the Rocky Mountains. But at the time, the city of Denver, Colorado, which sits on the edge of this large North American mountain range, was known as the second most polluted city in the US.
“Air quality doesn’t care about political boundaries,” says Tom Clark, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.
But pollution wasn’t the only challenge facing this gold town gone bust. Local governments started praying on one another, luring companies away from one region to another. “Just when the impulse says dive under the [covers] and pull up the blanket, we decided to build a world-class infrastructure,” says Mr Clark.
The effort began with tearing down the old viaducts that put Denver in permanent shade throughout the year and building a baseball stadium in the lower downtown district. “We built the stadium area as a pedestrian destination, which resulted in people walking through lower downtown to clubs and restaurants that began to sprout up,” says Mr Clark.
Today, Denver also offers a football stadium, convention centre and a new venue for winter sports. In addition, it provides an efficient transportation system that includes major highway expansions and a $7.4bn mass transit system that will add about 200 kilometres of high-speed rail links and extend existing routes throughout Colorado. Denver International airport also continues to attract a number of international flights.
Bringing in business
Businesses have taken notice. Since 2010, 26 corporations, including several Fortune 500 companies, have moved to Denver. Some have even announced they are moving their headquarters there.
Arrow Electronics, which controls about 40% of the global business supplying electronic components and services primarily to manufacturers, transferred its global headquarters from Melville, New York, to Denver in 2011. Not only did it become Colorado's largest revenue company; it also put Denver at the centre of a new industry, says Mr Clark.
Hitachi Data Systems, a unit of Tokyo-based Hitachi, recently announced plans to open an office in Denver, while J Schneider Elektrotechnik, a leading German producer of industrial power supplies, opened its manufacturing centre in Denver in June.
Innovation clusters, such as those for medical sciences and biotechnology, are also Denver-bound. DaVita, a provider of kidney care services, relocated its headquarters from California to Denver in September. Blood specialist Terumo BCT is expanding its global headquarters in Lakewood, just outside Denver. Fostering future growth is the Fitzsimons Life Science District in neighbouring Aurora, one of the largest bioscience real-estate developments in the country.
Clean technology is also significant in Denver, despite the fact Denver is ranked the fourth best 'up-and-coming' energy city in the world for oil and gas professionals by Rigzone.com, an online resource for the oil and gas industry.
In 2010, then-governor of Colorado Bill Ritter signed landmark legislation requiring the state to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This is the most ambitious renewable energy standard in the Rocky Mountain west area. Since then, Denver has seen a 6% average annual growth in clean technology jobs. Companies such as Vestas Wind Systems, Energy Unlimited and engineering firm Siemens have invested in Denver. There’s also potential for solar investment.
A big plus for Denver’s workforce is the number of young adults relocating here. Denver is known as the number one city in the US for relocating young adults (aged between 25 and 34) during the recession. It is also ranked third among US metropolitan areas for job growth during the 12 months ending in July 2012.