Colorado benefits from being one of the handful of states in the country where people will move to without a plan, ranking second overall in state growth. Colorado has sold lifestyle, buzz and innovation better than almost any other state-- Denver and Boulder have grown so much recently that they've gone from affordable to ranking in the top ten of least affordable cities.
Now Denver is expanding further and further south, to the point where the last suburb of Denver, Castle Rock, is on the doorstep of Colorado Springs. And Colorado Springs, less than an hour from downtown Denver and with the greenway appeal of Boulder, is poised to be the Colorado growth city of the next decade.
Unique Tech Partnerships Are Driving Growth
Based in Colorado Springs, the Air Force Academy has opened up its technology to the private sector, propelling both large partnerships and attracting large startups. This kind of access to state of the art government technology is a selling point few other areas have.
"Collaboration with our local industry partners not only benefits the Air Force by incorporating and informing best practices and cutting-edge technologies with our design process, it also gives our partners insight into Air Force challenges and vision that allows them to better adapt to government customer needs," said Lt. Col. Cynthia Brothers, CyberWorx director of strategic engagement, when I toured The Air Froce Academy last year.
But Colorado Springs is more than the Air Force Academy. Hannah Parsons, CEO of Exponential Impact, a security tech accelerator in the city, has been able to attract lots of first-time tech investors because of the business' location. Her strategy to be in Colorado Springs has been intentional, recognizing that the city needed to diversify to compete with strong local competitors and nationally.
People Don't Want To Leave Colorado Springs
It's not the biggest city. The population is just north of 450,000, putting it in the top 50 of most populous cities in America. But there's enough to do and millennials-- who especially value things like being able to bike work and access to nature-- are attracted to the area.
Video email company BombBomb has built a fun culture that attracts top talent and became a core employer downtown. CEO Conor McCluskey and I talked about how to stay relevant and adapt in tech and it all comes down to people. BombBomb has built a fun atmosphere where people want to work downtown. In turn, it has helped make Colorado Springs a more attractive destination for other businesses.
Titan Robotics is the largest maker of custom 3D printers in the country and are continually outgrowing their space. Founder Clay Guillory has brought a lot of his core team from Lousiana, where he is originally from, because he found that the emerging tech talent is strong in Colorado Springs.
Altia, the maker of most of the computer systems and interfaces you see in current cars, is located in Colorado Springs, despite consistent overtures to relocate.
"We have the choice to HQ-- a new verb I just invented-- in over a dozen different cities around the world, but paramount to our success is recruiting and keeping happy employees who want to stay with us for 10-plus years. Other well-known, tech-centered cities are exciting, but they don't offer a sustainable lifestyle beyond the 2 year honeymoon phase," said Mike Juran, CEO, during my visit to their headquarters.
Colorado Springs was never meant to be a big city. In fact, when it was founded in 1858 by Rio Grande Railroad Co-Creator General William Jackson Palmer after the Civil War, it was meant to be a resort town.
"It seems to be one of those rare places that inspires huge leaps of faith, said Sarah Humbargar, Principal, Living City Ventures, over coffee on a bright and windy Colorado morning. She has worked over the past decade on attracting people and businesses to Colorado Springs. "I don't know if it's because you look at that mountain all day and realize there's something out there bigger than us, or maybe it's just the altitude that makes us all a little crazy."
There are plenty of places where you can start a business and be successful, but Colorado Springs offers a rare combo of being a city with great tech opportunities, natural beauty, and being affordable enough to make a successful business without the pressure of having to immedialy succeed in order to make it.