Colorado’s working to overcome coastal impressions of the state — to bring companies here

Colorado has a few perception issues that could make it difficult to lure companies to the state. Yes, marijuana’s one of them.

Liz Cahill, Chief Marketing Officer at State of Colorado, seen with Broadway stretching into the distance. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Liz Cahill, Chief Marketing Officer at State of Colorado, seen with Broadway stretching into the distance. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Liz Cahill, chief marketing officer at the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, stands in her office in Denver overlooking Broadway. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado has a few perception issues that could make it difficult to lure companies from New York, Texas and California to the state — including cost of doing business, geography and, yes, marijuana.

“East of the Mississippi, we still have the perception of being a cow town,” said Liz Cahill, chief marketing officer of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. “Now what we’re seeing isn’t so much that. It’s we don’t work at a pace that New York is used to. ‘How can you be successful if you’re not working, 60-80 hours a week?'”

Cahill and her team are in the middle taking tricks she learned marketing Lee jeans, Nautica sportswear and other VF Corp. brands and applying them to selling Colorado to companies. Their efforts paired with other programs and incentives offered by the state help draw companies to Colorado, encourage in-state expansions and retain existing businesses.

“Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a really long time to change that because changing a perception is always hard,” Cahill said.

Cahill tells companies, “We work smarter”, and are just as productive — if not more so — than other states, we have a large, educated talent pool and Colorado is, of course, one of the greatest places in the country to live.

“We try to say, ‘Here’s everything you think know, but let me tell you about what you don’t and should,’ ” Cahill said. “You know about the mountains. You know about the sunshine. Tourism is doing a great job of that. I don’t need to tell one story about the number of days of sunshine around here.”

“That’s usually what everybody wants to lead with. No, no, no. There’s nothing new to that. Let’s tell them something new where they would be shocked. Do you know how many successful entrepreneurs are here? Do you know how many startups are here?”

The work on changing Colorado’s image dates back at least five years.

In 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper hired the founder of the Noodles & Co. to be Colorado’s first chief marketing officer. Cahill took over the role in 2015 after years of research and planning were already in progress.

“The governor really decided to make marketing of the state’s business culture a priority,” she said. “The reason for that is there are so many good things that are happening in the state and the economy is doing so well, but we’re not necessarily having that perception on the East Coast and West Coast.”

In March 2016, the state’s economic development office conducted an inaugural study on executives’ and site selectors’ thoughts on the state.

Some of the larger weaknesses identified were related to Colorado’s “distance from major cities,” “cost of business,” “high taxes” and “marijuana.” The state’s economic development office is about to kick off its 2017 study to see if perceptions have changed since last year.

The J.M. Smucker Co., Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Brooklyn Boulders and Arrow Electronics all declined — or simply didn’t respond — to talk to Denverite about why they recently decided to expand in or relocate to Colorado.

Cahill is hoping companies relocating serve as advocates for others eyeing Colorado. She and her team are collecting stories from businesses and posting them on the state’s new $150,000 website ChooseColorado.com.

“We want to reach the CEOs that are contemplating moving or the CEOs that are here in town that we want to stay and know about all the offering here in Colorado,” she said. “We knew we had to drive people somewhere and our old website didn’t really represent the innovative, extraordinary place Colorado is, so we’ve completely revamped that.”

2015 gross domestic product by state. (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)
2015 gross domestic product by state in millions of dollars. Shows Colorado is on par with Washington, Michigan and Tennessee, but behind states like California, Texas and New York. (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)

Kate Cohen came to the state about three years ago when her job with the startup TeachBoost gave her the option to work remotely.

“Something I’ve been able to do here in Colorado that I was not able to do in New York is strike a work-life balance,” Cohen said. “I found in New York that the pace I found myself in was you work all day, you go out all night, you have no money at all — and you’re somehow doing all things — and then at 5 a.m. you start all over again.”

The move to Colorado hasn’t hurt her productivity, Cohen said. Since coming, her company hired another person in the state and is in the process of possibly hiring a third.

Cohen said her company has no concerns about her living in Colorado.

“They just get upset because whenever I’m on my video chat it’s sunny,” she said. “‘Kate is in the sunshine again, and it’s January.'”

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and was recently elected to the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.