BOULDER — For all its scenic views, exciting hikes and plentiful craft beer, Boulder is not without its problems.
The city is struggling with rising housing prices, extreme traffic congestion and the need for continued workforce development.
The Boulder Chamber is now pledging to take the quarterback position on these issues, with a new multi-year plan called “Boulder Together.”
“This is an initiative for the community by the chamber,” John Tayer, president of Boulder Chamber, told BizWest.
Over two years, Tayer said the Chamber hosted think tanks and one-on-one discussions among business leaders and community partners to discuss the barriers to success the community is facing. The result was picking three categories — workforce housing, mobility and development — and steps the Chamber could take on remedying problems within those three issues. The project will be led by the Chamber Board, which will have the input of an advisory group. The University of Colorado Boulder will also be a strategic partner.
The challenge: The Chamber indicates that the challenge Boulder faces is its lack of affordable housing for low, moderate and middle-income households combined with a stagnant median hourly wage and a community that is being forced to commute long distances, contributing to employee dissatisfaction and traffic congestion.
The goal: The Chamber said it plans to increase the availability of affordable housing. In addition to hosting a housing summit and develop case studies on the negative impacts of affordable housing scarcity — both planned to be completed by the end of the year — the Boulder Together plan indicates it will launching a pilot housing project, to be started this year and completed by 2022.
“We plan to identify property owners willing to take a single-zone property, such as one that would be strictly used for commercial purposes, and have that site used for mixed-use development instead,” Tayer said.
Although it’s easier to get a commercial property approved and developed, transitioning to a mixed-use — which can at times be a hurdle for developers — increases the much-needed housing supply. The key to the project is finding a developer willing to partner and who believes in the Boulder Together mission. In addition to having the project be part of the Boulder Together effort, incentives such as housing credits may also be part of the pilot.
Even with the plan, however, Tayer said the housing problem is a complex one.
“Boulder is always going to be a place where housing prices are expensive,” he said. “It’s a place people want to live in. There are always going to be trade-offs in ways to address the housing challenge and maximize housing opportunities in Boulder. At the same time, the solution is regional. We know our workforce is coming from areas outside the city of Boulder and we need housing options for them as close to the community as possible.”
Tayer also added that in his role as president of Boulder Chamber, he’s been advocating for regulations that accommodate a diverse housing stock, such as tiny homes and rental units.
“As an advocate for business and the community’s interest, I will be continually outspoken on our economic diversity,” he said. “It’s part of the character of Boulder.”
Transportation and mobility
The challenge: Area roadways are seeing congestion from more than 250,000 vehicles traveling through Boulder every day, including 50,000 commuters traveling to and from jobs in the city.
The goal: The chamber said it plans to drive conversations on infrastructure planning and investment to improve mobility options, including final mile options and even a van-pool.
Tayer said part of the four-year mobility component of Boulder Together is advocating for long-term solutions, such as automated vehicle capabilities or expanding roadways. But he added that with being a voice from the business community, there is the opportunity to bring innovative solutions in the shorter-term, such as a more compact mass transit option than bus rapid transit or rail.
“There are problems and challenges right now that we need to support,” he said. “That may include us coordinating final mile solutions, coordinating pick-up and drop-off at transportation nodes or installing van-pools across the region. All of that will be done more efficiently with the collaboration and coordination of business.”
Tayer added that the Boulder Together project will carefully vet any statewide ballot initiative when it comes to funding infrastructure projects, to ensure that community projects will actually happen.
The challenge: There is a gap between the number of jobs available in Boulder and the skilled talent needed to fill those jobs, especially because of a lack of training specific to the needs of local businesses. The talent gap is expected to grow.
The goal: The Boulder Together plan has a variety of solutions to shrinking the talent gap, including creating an internship and training portal to connect the business and university sides of the equation. The hope is that portal could be launched next spring, although Tayer added that the timeline may need to be adjusted as the Boulder Together plan develops. Another goal is to instill an apprenticeship program for high school students. There are also goals of creating marketing resources and provide them to businesses to attract talent.
“These issues are not just business concerns, they are community concerns,” Tayer said. “As the business community, it’s time we assume leadership.”