2017 Regional Report: The West is Attracting High-Value Talent

Migration—by businesses and workers—is fueling growth in America’s Western states.

“The combination of the highly skilled technical workforce with the backdrop of the military that exists in the state has created this confluence of a rich environment for cybersecurity development,” Copeland says.

Colorado has also seen strong growth in other sectors. In December, BP moved its Lower 48 division headquarters from Houston to Denver, calling its operations in the Rocky Mountains “an important energy hub of the future.” Amazon announced in January that it was planning a one million-square-foot fulfillment center in Aurora, and Smucker’s announced a $340 million manufacturing facility in Longmont. Google has also been expanding its presence in Boulder, where it has doubled its workforce since 2015.

J.J. Ament, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., says that while Denver used to be known as “an energy town,” it has developed a reputation around technology. Tech firms Gusto, Partners Group and OnDeck Capital have opened offices in the past two years. The state also continues to be viewed nationally as a lab experiment for legalized recreational marijuana. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the industry sold $1.3 billion in medical and recreational marijuana in 2016, generating close to $200 million in tax revenues. Copeland says that despite all the publicity it’s generating, the new industry hasn’t been “earth shattering” in moving the state’s economy one way or another.

The influx of workers to the metro area is creating a significant demand for housing, yet Copeland says local regulations have created a “disincentive to build condos” and an incentive to built apartments. The Homeownership Opportunity Alliance says condo construction in Denver has fallen from 20% of all new housing construction in 2005 to only percent today.


IDAHO Having invested more than $1 billion in public and private partnerships, Boise is one of the fastest-growing construction markets in the country.

Locally Headquartered Companies Fueling Growth in Boise
While Idaho’s economy has always been heavily rooted in agriculture and food, strong growth in those sectors has been planting seeds for further development. Through acquisitions and mergers, Boise-based Albertsons has grown from fewer than 200 stores to more than 2,300 locations and $60 billion in annual sales in only five years. Last year, Albertsons announced an expansion and 300 more jobs at its Boise headquarters and expressed its intent to go public. The Financial Times reported in April that the company was considering a bid to buy Whole Foods.

Other companies headquartered in the area, including SuperSaver Foods, WinCo., Simplot and Heartland Recreational Vehicles, have also seen robust growth that Clark Krause, executive director of the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, says is driving the local economy. “Many of these companies have had extraordinary growth, and that has fueled strong organic development in the Boise metro area,” Krause says.

Krause says the economy is quite different than it was 10 years ago when the area was hit hard by the recession and subprime mortgage crisis. He notes the city is one of the fastest-growing construction markets in the country. Over the past several years, Boise has invested more than $1 billion in public and private projects such as the new Simplot headquarters, City Center Plaza and JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, a nonprofit community center). The Associated General Contractors reports that between September 2015 and September 2016, construction employment rose 25%, the highest in the nation. “There are cranes everywhere, with lots of wonderful projects coming out of the ground,” Krause says.

One challenge Idaho faces is keeping up with growth in its capital city. Boise has been ranked as one of the 20 fastest-growing cities in the country. “All of us as community leaders are very much in tune that we need to grow the city in a healthy way and not wait until it has horrendous chokes that become a problem,” Krause says.

Rural areas have also been trying to diversify their economies. Doug Manning, economic development director for the city of Burley, says while the agriculture and food industry continues to thrive in the Mini-Cassia region, growth is “spinning into other sectors.” Last year, Dow Chemical announced it would build a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Burley.


Moving Beyond Energy
Due to energy dependence and plummeting oil prices, Wyoming’s economy has had a bumpy ride of late. The Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States Index ranked Wyoming dead last in terms of employment, mortgage delinquency, personal income, home prices and the stock of local companies.

On the upside, there have been strong efforts to diversify the state’s economy beyond energy. Last year, Gov. Matt Mead announced the ENDOW (Economically Needed
Diversity Options for Wyoming), a 20-year strategic plan to coordinate economic diversification efforts across the state. Mead said in a press release the goal is to “build on recent success in establishing technology as a fourth leg of Wyoming’s economic strength… to build on the efforts that add value to coal, minerals and natural resources… to build on our success in growing a manufacturing industry.”


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