Venture capitalists spent $620 million in Colorado during the past three years — all for clean and renewable energy industries, but none of the money was spent in Colorado Springs.
The city is missing out on one of the fastest growing industries in the country. A report from the Pew Foundation showed that job growth in Colorado for clean energy grew at 18.2 percent, ahead of overall job growth of 8.2 percent.
Nationally, jobs in the clean energy economy grew at a rate of 9.1 percent, while overall jobs grew by only 3.7 percent during the last decade.
“Colorado Springs just doesn’t have the reputation that other cities have — we aren’t known for being sustainable,” said Eric Cefus, executive director of the Catamount Institute. “That’s one thing we’re trying to change.”
Even during a recession, venture capitalists see the importance of alternative, sustainable energy — and Colorado ranked fifth in the nation for investment dollars in the industry.
But the money and the jobs are going to Boulder and Denver.
That’s why the city has to start marketing itself — and its sustainability — differently, Cefus said.
“This isn’t going to go away,” he said. “We are still decades away from a reliable source, so the field is going to keep growing. We need to attract those industries here. We’re perfectly situated — just look at the Intel building, it’s empty and has all the space and clean rooms a company like that would need.”
Part of attracting “green” business is by becoming more “green,” Cefus said.
“We have to invest in sustainability,” he said. “That’s one of the first steps in attracting those types of business. We have to walk the talk.”
The Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. is working to attract green industries, and Catamount’s Sustainable Business Network is teaching businesses how to get in on the act as well.
“We have to give the right tools to the EDC to market the city and the area,” Cefus said. “But no one’s going to come here until we show that we are a sustainable city.”
Colorado Springs now has a sustainability coordinator — for the first time. That’s a step in the right direction, as is the creation of a sustainability plan.
“There’s no citywide sustainability plan,” Cefus said. “We’re starting to work on that now, and the work is going forward.”
The city hasn’t missed the sustainability or green energy boom, he said, but waiting to create incentives for those businesses is a mistake.
“Every day we wait is another day we have the potential to miss the boat,” he said. “It is not too late; we need to do the normal things to create the environment that people want to move to.”
Gov. Bill Ritter set a focus on new energy when he took office two years ago, and the effort has paid off. Colorado ranks in the top 20 nationwide for new energy jobs — with 7,778 clean businesses and 17,008 new jobs.
“Clean energy generates jobs, businesses and investments,” said Lori Grange, interim deputy director and head of the research unit in the Pew Center on the States. “Clean energy is becoming a critical component of the nation’s future.”
Nationwide, there were 68,200 new businesses that were created with new energy or renewable energy — accounting for 770,000 new jobs.
“These numbers might sound modest,” Grange said. “Three-quarters of a million jobs represent half a percent of all jobs in the United States today. But Pew’s research shows that between 1998 and 2007, clean energy economy jobs grew.”
The study is the first that counted each job created by renewable energy, she said. The jobs range from manufacturing wind turbines to attorneys who practice in the emerging field.
“There is a mix of white- and blue-collar positions, from scientist and engineers to electricians and teachers,” Grange said. “The pay range is between $21,000 and $111,000 a year.”
New energy is still in its infancy, Grange said, but is growing rapidly. By contrast, the well-established traditional energy sector — oil, gas and coal mining — employed 1.27 million people during 2007.
Venture capital nationwide reached $1 billion during 2005, and grew to $12.6 billion during the past three years.
“Even in a down economy, venture capitalists are investing,” said David Prend, director at the National Venture Capital Association and a founder and managing general partner at the venture capital firm Rockport Capital Partners.
“Investments in clean technology are faring better than in other industries,” he said. “They were down 48 percent in the first three months of 2009 compared with a year earlier, while total venture capital across all sectors was down 61 percent for the same period.”