“Welcome to the Mile High City!” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock greeted the Hampton Roads Chamber Leadership Exchange Delegation on the first night of the LEX to Denver. Mayor Hancock shared his administration’s efforts to "build back better" after the pandemic. Chesapeake Mayor Rick West and
The three-day Leadership Exchange Visit began on Monday, October 18. The Hampton Roads Chamber leaders set the agenda to parallel the 757 Recovery and Resilience Framework goals. The four areas of study include Economic Development; Growing, Retaining, Attracting Talent; Building Regional Unity; and Advancing Regional Infrastructure. Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan were among the delegates sharing insights with Hancock noting the similarities between the Metro Denver region and Hampton Roads. Mayor West commented both areas are committed to a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
Tuesday began with an economic development bus tour. Vikki Kelly, Director of Destination Services and Events for Visit Denver, highlighted the amazing growth in and around the city. While some view construction as a traffic problem, Kelly noted Denver residents "see construction as a symbol of our continued growth." The Mile High City is one of the fastest-growing in America. Denver has added 100,000 new residents in the past ten years. Kelly noted Visit Denver data shows most people moving into the metro Denver area experience it as a visitor first. Kelly's tour continued through the cultural district, including a golf course, zoo, botanical garden, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Sciences.
A stop at the museum afforded a fantastic skyline view of the city. Nancy Walsh, Vice President Experiences and Partnership, DMNS, explained the unique funding mechanism for arts and culture. "1/10 of 1% of sales tax from 7 counties goes into the Science and Cultural Facilities District Fund (SCFD) for culture and arts. This allows us to bring school groups into the museum for free."
J.J. Ament, President and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce led a panel discussion on economic development and creating new jobs. Ament highlighted the strong sense of regional collaboration and respect. Deborah Cameron, Chief Business Development Officer for Denver Office of Economic Development, took it one step further and declared, "we are super-connectors!" Erik Mitisek, Entrepreneurism Advocate, stressed the importance of welcoming entrepreneurs into the market. “We have low ego here. We welcome the new entrepreneurs and help them get connected. We have a humble mindset of giving first and being generous." Ginger White Brunetti, Executive Director, Arts and Venues City & County of Denver, called their region a "do-acracy. Those who ‘do' get promoted and move up. We are a city of lovers, not haters. We are inclusive and create low barriers of concern with both policy and infrastructure access.”
During an adventurous lunch at the Denver Milk Market, the Delegates experienced 16 food vendors under one roof. The concept gives chefs a chance to operate with low overhead and offers diners great food options. The same idea flowed into the upstairs with FLEX Office Denver. Owner Chez Dyaz welcomed the group to the shared office space. Dyaz says his co-working spaces have done well during the pandemic because companies don’t want to invest in real estate, and workers need options other than work from home.
Lee Wheeler-Berliner, managing director of the Colorado Workforce Development Council Office, moderated a panel discussion on talent attraction and retention. "66-Regional Unity brought the delegates together for the third day. Clif Harald, the Former Executive Director for the Boulder Economic Council, acted as moderator. Harald pointed out the region's Code of Ethics, ensuring city leaders don’t poach companies from nearby jurisdictions. A brief history lesson on the three recessions Denver Kelly Folks of Arapahoe/Douglas Works said the Colorado workforce alliance looks to data to determine the talent pipeline needs. “We work with economic development and pull from a wide group to meet staffing needs.” Tony Anderson, Director of Denver Workforce Services, shared details about a unique apprentice program. “Career-Wise bridges the gap between education and career in industries not usually associated with apprenticeships. Legal, Financial, and Corporations use apprentices for Finance, HR, and office support.” thousand jobs were added in 2021. Mostly in Healthcare, IT, and cybersecurity. Denver is an attractive place for remote work, and we are seeing remote work on the rise."
experienced in the 1970s and 1980s set the stage for the 41st Mayor Federico Peña's city transformation. "The economic distress became the catalyst." During Peña's regime from 1983 to 1991, the city committed to venues for major league sports funded by regional collaboration.
Aylene McCallum, Senior Director of Civil Leadership Programs for the Downtown Denver Partnership, stressed the need for regions to make the area a place “where young professionals want to live, work, and play. We’ve created an economically vibrant downtown and provided engagement opportunities.”
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet serves as a leader for the Council of Mayors and the Regional Council of Governments. Millet urged Hampton Roads leaders to build a regional council. "Staff it with professional staff and tackle the tough issues." The top three issues facing Denver are affordable housing, talent/workforce, and funding for roads. They use sales tax revenue from Cannabis to fund affordable housing. Millet and Harald stressed the continuity of leadership as a key to regional unity.
Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort met the delegation after they had toured Coors Field. Monfort and Sage Hospitality Group Owner Walter Isenberg partnered to
create McGregor Square and the Rally Hotel in space adjacent to the Rockies home field. They shared that Coors Field financing was 75% public money and 25% private investment. The public funds were collected through a tax that equated to 1 cent on every $10 spent. The investment worked so well; they used the leftover funds to create the Pepsi Center where the Nuggets and Avalanche play. Isenberg cautioned our leaders. "You can't just build a stadium. You must build a neighborhood." Monfort said the McGregor complex is just about finished and came in at $355 million. He says there are significant financial benefits for a city to have a major league team. "The payroll tax on players' salaries is $50-$70 million over ten years. Add to that $30 million in concession sales each year." Monfort shared that the Rockies are responsible for all the maintenance of Coors Field. "We take very good care of it. It is the third oldest national league stadium and is still one of the best."
Incoming Chair for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Mowa Haile, moderated the final panel on advancing regional infrastructure. Cristal DeHerrera, Chief of Staff for Denver International Airport, shared the history of air travel. Denver had a small airport locked in for growth. "In 1995, they built Denver International Airport just outside the city, and now this is the third busiest airport in the world.” DeHerrera expressed admiration for former Mayor Peña’s bold leadership. “He almost lost his political career for backing DIA." Ron Papsdorf, Transporation Planning and Operations Director
for the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), said the formula for growth is simple. "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Denver has grown 14% over the last decade and will welcome 1 million more people over the next few years." Deborah Johnson, Chief Executive Officer for Regional Transit District, said Denver is better because of transit. "We make lives better by connections." Alice Jackson, President of Excel Energy, Denver, is pushing the region to use 80% renewable energy by 2030. "We support quality of life with reliability, affordability, and sustainability of energy." Each panelist stressed the commitment to regional infrastructure set Denver on its growth trajectory. Bold leaders making unpopular choices, regional taxation for infrastructure, and municipalities focused on the greater good of the whole region Denver's greatest strengths.
The delegation enjoyed memorable dinners at the Fort at Red Rocks, Urban Farmer, and Ocean Prime. A behind-the-scenes tour of Coors Field and a bus ride through the impressive Red Rocks area were among the highlights. Denver has a unique sense of place that everyone in the city has adopted. Just about every tourist item has mountains as the background as a unique selling point for the region. The world knows Denver as the Mile High City. At Coors Field, a purple line marks the seats that sit at exactly one mile high. The crisp mountain air, the beautiful scenic backdrops, and the warmth of the people who live in Denver have positioned the Metro Denver area as an economic powerhouse as the region is poised to continue its remarkable growth in the post-pandemic era.
Mayor Hancock was the first to point out, "we have 300 days of sunshine in Denver." That sunshine is fueling economic growth at an astounding rate. Hampton Roads may only experience about 215 days of sunshine, but we have everything else Denver has to make our region competitive. We have the ocean, the bay, incredible waterways, and scenic landscapes. Our civic leaders are committed to regional collaboration. We need to come together to tell our story. We may not be able to shout it from a mile-high mountaintop, but we can send a strong message from sea level. Welcome to Hampton Roads.
To view photos of the 2021 Leadership Exchange Conference: https://www.hrchamber.com/gallery/index/album/id/429/