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6/6/2004

Tech industry coming back

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Gov. Bill Owens has often referred to Colorado’s economy as being tops in the nation for growth during the 1990s.

Much of that growth was fueled by high-tech industries like software and telecommunications — which meant Colorado was especially hard-hit when the tech economy imploded in 2001.

But things are on the rebound, as Owens repeated again and again at the fifth annual Governor’s Technology Summit.

“The tech bubble, if not burst, deflated a little bit over the last 24 months,” Owens said Thursday afternoon. But he said he would still prefer Colorado to be in the position it’s in rather than being a state that would have to rely on “old industries.”

Going heavy on the good news, Owens referenced a report by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank that said Colorado’s economy was the third-most diversified in the nation. Seven of Colorado’s 11 major industry sectors are expanding, Owens said, and Colorado’s unemployment rate — 5.2 percent — is below the national average. Also, job growth in the state is third-highest in the nation.

Still, Owens acknowledged, doubts linger.

“The perception (of the economy) remains several months behind,” Owens said during an afternoon speech to a crowd of several hundred.

Later, following the keynote address from Richard Notebaert, CEO of Qwest Communications, both he and the governor took questions from the audience, and the subject came up again: If economic indicators are up, why the perception that the economy is soft?

“For some of you, the economy is soft,” Owens said. “Perception, all across the public policy arena, often lags reality.”

“We are seeing a pickup (in telecom), but there’s been price compression,” Notebaert said, adding that that’s good news for consumers.

“The growth is coming back, the demand is coming back, but for me there’s no price, which is good for you guys but bad for me,” he said, prompting the audience to laugh.

Questioned on the topic of outsourcing, both Owens and Notebaert agreed that it’s something that is here to stay.

Owens said it can be looked at two very different ways, depending on whether you are the one who benefits in some way from outsourcing, or if you are the one who loses a job because of it.

“Economies change, and I think our goal ought to be to stay on the cutting edge so we are always poised to benefit from those changes,” Owens said.

Notebaert referred to outsourcing as “a very difficult issue,” but added, “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us. I feel terrible for the individual, but that individual may have to retool.”

The annual tech summit began the same year Owens created the cabinet-level Office of Innovation and Technology. State Technology Secretary Leroy Williams spoke to the audience about the importance of forging public-private partnerships to make sure Colorado remains a high-tech hub.

He detailed some of the achievements of his department, such as having broadband wired to all 64 Colorado counties, and plans for the future, such as broadening the state’s “e-government” program.

Williams said Colorado is taking a close look at what other states are doing, such as Minnesota, where 100 percent of the state’s business tax filings are done online. “To me, that’s the best practice,” he said.

And Williams reached out to the academic community, saying it has a huge role to play in Colorado’s future as a high-tech hotbed.

“We have to figure out how we can get more kids excited about math, science and technology,” Williams said.

About 2,000 people attended the day-long event at the Colorado Convention Center.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at
303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail
at tkindelspire@times-call.com.