In search of ‘the next Boulder’

It’s always great to return to Boulder after a summer getaway but, increasingly, trips away seem as though I’ve never left. Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m in Boulder – or, “the next Boulder.”

This year, we traveled to Washington, D.C., and made our way through the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia en route to Asheville, North Carolina, and eventually Nashville, Tennessee, for a conference.

I’d never been to Asheville before, but I was particularly interested in what I’ve heard described as “the next Boulder.” Asheville seems to be a great community, with a thriving downtown, an artsy scene and a vibrant startup community. But “the next Boulder?” I’ve heard or read that term so often that I’ve become a bit jaded: Is there a small (or large) city anywhere that isn’t seeking to capture the Boulder mystique?

The latest to state a desire for that moniker is Miami. In a recent blog post on the Miami Herald’s website, entrepreneur Jared Kleinert lays out some thoughts for how South Florida can transform itself:

“In order to become the next tech hub, South Florida needs an extremely dedicated group of individuals to take action and make it their sole purpose to grow our tech community,” Kleinert wrote. “While this is hard to do, it is the investment we must make to become the next Boulder or Austin.”

It’s not surprising that other communities would want to replicate Boulder’s success, but it is somewhat astounding at the mix of towns and cities that seek to become “the next Boulder.” And you don’t have to go far to find some of them:

• Denver: A recent article on www.confluence-denver.com asks, “Is Denver the Next Boulder? Natural Foods Industry Hitting Critical Mass.”

• Cheyenne, Wyoming: A Denver Post article from November asks, “Could Cheyenne become the next Boulder?”

I’ve read similar articles referencing Helena, Missoula and Bozeman, Montana; Rochester and Ithaca, New York; Murietta, California; Bend, Oregon; Portland, Maine; Manchester, New Hampshire; Bellingham, Washington; Cleveland; Ogden, Utah; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Vaduz, Liechtenstein. (OK, I made that last one up.)

No matter where Boulderites might travel, are we destined to encounter would-be mirror images of our own community? That thought makes it refreshing to hear someone take a different tack. A recent interview published in the Colorado Springs Business Journal, conducted with entrepreneur Nick Lee, says that Colorado Springs should not strive to become “the next Boulder.”

“I think that’s a common saying: ‘We can be the next Boulder’,” Lee said. “I understand the comparison. But, we won’t be the next Boulder, or the next Silicon Valley or Boston, etc. We will be Colorado Springs and it will be amazing. We’re on a 20-year timeline and we’re in year number two of actively building the start-up community here. Boulder is in year 15 or 20 (or more, depending on how you look at it). The thing about being a community focused around technology is that it changes so much so fast. To think that, in 20 years, Colorado Springs will be where Boulder is now just isn’t right. We’re starting and growing at a different time in history.“

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I hope other communities take Lee’s approach. Duplicating Boulder is not possible. But learning what feeds the city’s startup culture could set other towns and cities on their own entrepreneurial path.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-440-4950 or via email at cwood@bcbr.com.

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