Economic mobility tops city’s development list
Denver’s economy has added 75,000 jobs and 5,000 businesses since 2011, according to the city Office of Economic Development.
But in an acknowledgment that not all city residents have benefited equally from Denver’s rise, city officials announced Wednesday that economic development efforts this year will focus on economic mobility and opportunity for all.
That includes creating more middle-skill job opportunities for low-income residents and helping to keep families in Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Montbello and Westwood from being involuntarily displaced from their neighborhoods.
“We’re taking necessary strides to help ensure all residents have the opportunity to benefit from Denver’s vibrant economy,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in announcing the city’s 2017 JumpStart plan.
Each year, the Denver Office of Economic Development lays out its strategic priorities in the plan. Last year’s JumpStart plan emphasized assisting small businesses, retaining larger ones and promoting international trade, while in 2015, the city focused on affordable and workforce housing.
“Economic mobility is a fancy word for how do we extend economic opportunity to everyone, not just those that have access or have already demonstrated financial success,” said Paul Washington, executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development. “We look at that in two fundamental ways — what I would term as an income approach and an equity approach.”
Among the city’s strategic initiatives this year are:
• Testing a program to give displaced residents priority in new affordable housing units funded by OED.
• Financing a cooperative ownership model for small neighborhood-based businesses that employ residents in north and west Denver.
• Developing a maker’s lab that provides entrepreneurs with access to manufacturing resources.
• Encouraging developers of OED-financed projects to recruit, train and hire low-income residents for entry-level, middle-skill po- sitions.
• Establishing a $3 million fund to finance at least one full-service grocery store each in Montbello, Westwood and Globeville/Elyria-Swansea.
Creating a public-private financing model to preserve and rehabilitate housing units whose affordability restrictions are expiring
OED earlier this year established a division dedicated to economic mobility, Hancock said.
“If we can provide a roof, we’ve also got to provide opportunities to move up the economic ladder,” Hancock said. “That includes better paying jobs, opportunity to position yourself to be an entrepreneur, how we strengthen our small businesses, how we provide good transportation options.”
Washington, who is leaving city hall at the end of the week for a job with commercial real estate firm JLL, said the biggest challenge facing OED moving forward will be remaining effective even as its federal funding likely decreases.
“An overwhelming majority of the Office of Economic Development’s funding is federal,” Washington said, adding that city officials are “anticipating no less than a 20 percent cut.”