Scott J. Sternberg
Executive Director, Boulder Economic Council
Three years ago, during the height of the pandemic, The Boulder Chamber and the Boulder Economic Council (BEC) were actively engaged in connecting business and community leaders via online forums to align around strategies for maintaining our economic vitality and, frankly, to save many of our businesses from collapse. Amidst the uncertainty of that period and the effort to deal with current circumstances, I also held my focus on the long game, with an eye toward a more strategic economic recovery period based on the foundation of what I got used to calling, the new normal.
Today we face more traditional economic headwinds, such as rising inflation and the threat of a recession. Together, the sequential periods of economic recovery and the difficulties of today have perhaps forever redefined many aspects of our national and local economy. However, while the economic paradigm shifts might seem abrupt, I argue that they are simply accelerated and more transparent core economic trends.
Hence the theme for the Boulder Economic Council’s upcoming Economic Summit, “Our Evolving Economy.”
Perhaps the most prominent force in our current economic evolution is the rapid development and adoption of new technology. Most experts agree that the transition to an online way of both working and purchasing was well under way prior to the pandemic. With the introduction of Zoom-like collaboration tools, the proliferation of artificial intelligence resources and the incorporation of wide-ranging online education services, some are suggesting we have experienced a decade’s worth of digital adoption in just a few short years.
The consequences of this hyper-drive in technological advancement, and the hybrid work and lifestyle models it enables, certainly had its downstream effects.
First, the aggressive hiring of tech workers to meet the initial demands of technology adoption was followed by a pullback once the market stabilized. In part, this led to the current condition of our professional and technical services sectors. Further, there have been substantial impacts on our commercial real estate markets. As the in-person versus remote worker equation is reaching its new equilibrium, we are seeing increased office space vacancies and a complete rethink of building utilization. To further compound these challenges, the recent increases in property value assessments, coupled with certain state and local ballot initiatives, have dramatically impacted an individual company’s cost of doing business.
A second important factor driving our current economic condition has been “once in a generation” federal funding initiatives and policy legislation. While some of this was pandemic-induced, much of the federal investment is a critical response to long-deteriorating domestic infrastructure, unsustainable global technological competition, and undeniable climate change impacts. This includes large
government grants targeted in areas that can positively impact our local economy, such as domestic semiconductor development, use-inspired science, and improved mobility models. These new investment programs have also inspired higher-level interdisciplinary and cross-community engagement that is creating regional scale opportunities for addressing large economic initiatives in a more equitable and environmentally sustainable manner.
Finally, there has been strong advancement in several of our key industry sectors during this recent period of economic transition. For instance, a dramatic reduction in deployment costs for low earth orbit has opened a large playing field for aerospace companies. With the demonstrated efficacy of mRNA vaccines, our biosciences sector is rapidly adopting faster drug discovery techniques, developing improved medical devices, and achieving better patient outcomes. Increased federal investment also is advancing novel climate technology products and solutions and boosted awareness of nascent industries, such as quantum computing and sensing.
Here at the Boulder Chamber and the BEC, we are beginning to catch a glimpse of what might be the new normal. To dig deeper into what these changing economic conditions, and others yet to be uncovered, I encourage you to join us on October 19 for our annual Economic Summit. No, the current circumstances aren’t unanticipated, but the changes are accelerating, and our collective economic vitality depends on understanding the influences, challenges, and opportunities of Our Evolving Economy!