Tayer: Invitation to Boulder’s new city manager: Let’s take a walk

Dear Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde,

On behalf of Boulder’s vibrant business community, I offer my congratulations and welcome! 

I recently read that you enjoy learning about new places by walking around them, and you particularly value listening. That makes a lot of sense to me, so I hereby invite you for a walk together to personally meet some of Boulder’s business owners. You will see how we depend on their energy and innovation and hear what they see as the challenges and opportunities of working in this city. I also want you to know that we’re still a little “weird,” but coming from Austin, you’ve already demonstrated you can handle that. 

Without pre-supposing what you will observe on our walk, there are a few things I’m sure you’ll recognize immediately. Boulder is blessed with many innovative companies, across a wide cross-section of industries, from high-tech to hospitality and bioscience to natural products. Undergirding all of it is a super-charged gusto for entrepreneurial success, backed by an extensive network of federal laboratories and a world-class research university. You’ll also find among Boulder’s businesses a unique interest in sustainable practices that is reinforced by the beautiful natural environment we cherish.

What really sets our businesses community apart is a culture of collaboration, best characterized by a term that the renowned startup business leader Brad Feld coined, “giving first.” It’s how we show up in this community: first identifying how we can help others achieve their business goals and recognizing that we all share in their success. That spirit has withstood its most trying test during this past year, only to further reinforce the recognition that we are a single economic ecosystem that relies on mutual support and a collective will to thrive.

It’s in that “give first” vein that I look forward to forging a constructive partnership between the business community and our Boulder government administration under your leadership. Our goals are often shared and there are many examples of successful public and private sector collaboration to tout. Too often, though, the problem-solving path our local officials choose is characterized more by the wielding of a stick that seeks to impose its will on market dynamics than the carrot, or even more appropriately, collaborative effort, with disappointing results for all of us.

Fortunately, through the experience of surviving a pandemic, disastrous fires and a horrible mass shooting, the business community and our government leadership have formed the foundation for collaboration on which to build for the future. There are shared challenges, too, that our business community stands ready to tackle in partnership with you and your new team. I offer a few key areas of focus below that I think embody our mutual interests and the elements of a positive working relationship:

Responsible Economic Development: Economic health and community well-being are inextricably linked. As our businesses — especially small firms and their employees — suffered this past year from necessary public health restrictions, so did our community take an enormous hit. An unsustainable drop in tax revenues meant a loss in valued city services and the struggles of many beloved businesses draped a dark cloud over our community spirit. At a time when our residents have a heightened recognition that business is vital to our collective quality of life, the time is ripe for collaboration on programs and policies that address long-term constraints on our economic vitality, such as affordable workforce housing, high-speed internet access and transportation infrastructure.

Diversity as a Social and Economic Imperative: To put it bluntly, Boulder risks becoming a de facto monoculture that is ever-less accessible for diverse population groups. We can help address that by promoting inclusive economic development that provides a welcoming environment for diverse entrepreneurs and workforce talent. It begins by addressing some of the policy issues I outlined above. It will be a journey for all of us, but be assured the business community is committed to traveling that path with you. It is not just the right thing to do for society: Truly innovative businesses, like those you will find in Boulder, value diversity as a sine qua non of creativity and resilience.

Inclusive Public Engagement: Longtime Boulder community leader, and frequent critic of business growth, Steve Pomerance recently opined that we should hear all sides when debating important issues. There Steve and I agree: We must seriously listen to a variety of viewpoints on major issues, including the perspective and interests of local business leadership and workforce. That means engaging us at the front end of community conversations, first agreeing on the problems we’re seeking to address, and then giving license for all suggested alternative solutions to be heard. There’s a lot of problem-solving talent waiting to be discovered from behind those office, research and manufacturing facility walls.

I’m sure you will hear from many others in your first few walks around Boulder. They likely will offer different perspectives and emphasize different values. That is as it should be. I want to make sure you develop a full understanding of the character that defines the community we love and that you will help shepherd through its next era of evolution. As a vital element of that character, your new business community and I again welcome you to this wonderful place and look forward to working together in the months and years ahead to help Boulder grow even stronger, increasingly inclusive and more resilient.

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110, or john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.