As I watch the horrors in Ukraine unfolding, I’m also buoyed by the strength our western alliance has exhibited in its unified response. It harkens me back to my sojourn through Europe in 2003 and my introduction to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, thanks to the German Marshall Fund and their Marshall Memorial Fellowship. A key message of the fellowship: Shared economic interests have been the foundation for peace on the European continent since World War II. That same principle stands today as the bulwark against further Russian aggression.
Years later, with only a televised connection to the terrible life and death struggles that Russia’s attack on Ukraine have created, I draw a humble parallel between the same principles that unite the nations of Europe with our own efforts to build ties of mutual economic interest across the Boulder County region, with further quality of life benefits. Let me explain.
In the years after WWII, European political leaders sought ways to overcome centuries of turmoil by creating common interests and connections. The momentum began in 1951 with the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community and then the broader European Economic Community in 1957, eventually evolving into today’s European Union. Founded on the common values of democracy and freedom, the underpinning for this European unity is the free movement of goods and services across national boundaries. It’s this economic interdependence that most attribute to stability in a region that had been mired in conflict since the fall of the Roman Empire.
No, interjurisdictional regional conflicts across Boulder County haven’t devolved — at least in my understanding of our local history — into actual violence. Nonetheless, antagonism over everything from retail and commercial development opportunities to the annexation of particularly coveted street corners has erupted into pitched legal and political skirmishes. I’ve been reading, with the benefit of amused hindsight, about an early 1900s battle between the Longmont Chamber and the Boulder Chamber in drawing tourists through their respective communities by coaxing them along either Arapahoe Road or the current-day Highway 285.
This character of competition is rooted in an old-school vision of the zero-sum economic competition among communities across the Boulder County region. The reality is that this type of conflict is detrimental to achieving a broader vision of economic and community vitality. I won’t take space here decrying the waste of resources and time associated with the resolution of conflicts through our legal system. The damage of an approach to economic development that views surrounding jurisdictions purely through the lens of win-lose competition, though, has an even more pernicious impact on the decisions business leaders make regarding the location for their future operations and the regional capacity to secure government investment, whether for economic or broader community goals.
With a new generation of leadership at the helm of regional business and economic support organizations across Boulder County and our neighboring Broomfield County, so too has a new enlightened perspective taken hold. These leaders recognize that we live in an increasingly connected economic ecosystem, with companies, customers and employees crossing political jurisdictions. The interests of these stakeholders transcend traditional jurisdictional boundaries, living their lives and conducting their daily activities region-wide. Amid that environment, it serves none of those working to enhance economic vitality in their respective communities to act like they live in isolated domains.
It was with that mindset that, in 2016, several local chambers formed the Northwest Chamber Alliance to address these common interests. It is comprised of eight community and county-wide organizations representing approximately 3,600 businesses and 370,000 employees. Our coordinated alliance approach has reaped benefits. For example, we were a united source of support for businesses throughout the COVID pandemic, we’ve collectively advocated on issues ranging from transportation funding and workforce development to electronic sales and use tax simplification at the state capitol, and recently, we helped coordinate responses to businesses and community impacts from the Marshall Fire.
Of course, I’m not contending that our regional issues in any way approach Europe’s troubled history. But just as the EU seeks to transcend potential divisiveness through common economic interests, so do we, through the Northwest Chamber Alliance and other regional economic collaboration mechanisms, seek to leverage shared social and economic goals to avoid the degrading impacts of unmitigated competition and, conversely, inspire mutually beneficial coordinated regional action. The common thread: Peace and shared prosperity through business . . . and may they both continue their forward progress.
John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or email@example.com.