Boulder business considerations in the Trump era

From protests in the streets to the celebration of a fresh change in national leadership, there is no shortage of very strong opinions regarding the direction our nation is taking under President Donald J. Trump.  While business leaders might carry a particular bias with respect to the President’s political bent, their focus is rightly on the very practical considerations regarding the challenges and opportunities for their companies.  The Boulder Chamber is similarly monitoring policy developments for their impact, positive or negative, on the Boulder economy, along with the appropriate advocacy responses.

Of course, it’s important to recognize that Boulder enjoys a diverse economy.  Further, as leaders in innovation and job creation, we’re likely to remain healthy. Outside of that general framework, it’s clear there’s a lot we don’t know. When CU’s executive director of its Business Research Division, Dr. Rich Wobbekind, gave his views at the Boulder Economic Council’s 2017 Economic Forecast, he acknowledged this lack of information about the new administration’s plans.

Without undue speculation, though, early executive actions and broad policy outlines can give us some clues to the policy changes we might expect under a Trump administration. Here are just a few of the areas to follow:

“America First” in trade and foreign relations. The United States may rely less on large multilateral trade agreements — such as withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and renegotiating NAFTA — in favor of more bilateral deals. In 2015, Colorado exported about $8 billion in goods, supporting thousands of jobs nationwide and more than 5,000 small and medium businesses, much of this related to NAFTA countries, according to the International Trade Administration. Boulder’s share was about $1 billion, or almost 12 percent of the state’s total, and a significant share of jobs statewide were supported by manufactured goods. We’ll need to watch closely how these businesses and jobs might be affected by new policies.

Energy and the environment. The new administration is placing emphasis on developing oil and gas reserves, along with “clean-coal technology.” Some portion is aimed at protecting clean air, water, and natural habitats. Less clear is how it will support renewable-energy programs. Boulder is a center for clean tech, renewable energy and other climate- and energy-associated organizations, with a concentration of employment in clean tech about 3.6 times the national average, according to the Boulder Economic Council. And we are home to leading federal research labs, along with a significant participation by the University of Colorado Boulder. But Colorado also has a significant fossil fuel sector. To the extent that clean-energy programs see a change in federal support, and oil and gas are given greater priority, we could see impacts here and across the state.

Technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. As of this writing, we haven’t seen specific policies on how to foster innovation. The President has talked about changing the tax and regulatory environment to promote small businesses. Boulder prides itself as being at the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the Boulder Chamber has supported responsible approaches to taxes, fees and regulations. But much of our innovation is driven by the collaboration among our research university, federal research laboratories and industries. We will need to give careful consideration to the impact that new tax policies, regulatory reform, and changes to research funding priorities has on advanced industries and small businesses.

“Bringing back jobs and growth.” The Trump administration has made revitalizing manufacturing a major part of its economic plan. Tax and regulatory “reform” has been a key element, as have trade negotiations. As Dr. Wobbekind pointed out, a significant share of Boulder County’s and the city of Boulder’s employment is in the manufacturing sector. This sector added the fourth-highest job growth in the county from 2010 to 2015, and it employed the third-highest number of workers in the city in 2015. To the extent that the new administration’s policies could enhance manufacturing opportunities, Boulder could be well positioned to take advantage.

I could go on, but the bottom line is, local business leaders will need to join with the Boulder Chamber to monitor closely the policy actions of President Trump and be prepared to respond to both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.  We also know that we start from a strong position, with unique strengths that have propelled Boulder’s economy forward. That should give us all confidence in our capacity to adjust to the changing federal landscape and sustain our economic vitality, for the long term.

John Tayer is CEO of the Boulder Chamber. He can be reached at 303-442-1058 or via email at john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.

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