Industries in Denver

How has the composition of top industries in Denver changed over the years, and what is to come?

Denver was founded in 1858 as a mining town.

The early days of Denver were very much the wild west, and many names harken back to those beginnings. From sports teams (Nuggets, Broncos) to towns (Golden, Silverthorne, Leadville), there is no denying that mining is the foundation that Denver was built on.

Manufacturing, transportation, and telecom took over when the gold rush collapsed in 1893.

New roads and improvement to rail and air travel in the early 20th century made Denver a hub for transportation. For many years during this period, Denver’s economy was mostly dependent on the processing and shipping of minerals and ranch products.

Denver was also revived when companies like the Gates Corporation (which was at the time one of the world’s largest producers of automobile belts and hoses) and Mountain State Telephone & Telegraph Company (now Century Link) were founded and grew. It was the first taste of diversification for Denver, a town that desperately needed it.

Post-World War II, Denver saw an energy boom.

During the war, Denver was a prime location for all sorts of federal activity, due to its distance from either coast (making it unlikely to come under attack). This injection of federal money also led to increased spending by energy companies and drilling in the region rapidly increased.

By 1978, more than 5,000 wells had been drilled in the Rocky Mountain region and oil & gas was officially the leading industry in Denver.

The Denver “Tech” Center was also created during this time, which brought new technology and communications companies to our city, though the city was still highly dependent on the energy industry.

In the 1980s, Denver saw an extreme economic stagnation.

By this point, Denver was relying far too heavily on two main industries: oil & gas and military contracts (both from Buckley Air Force Base and the Air Force base in Colorado Springs). When oil prices tanked in 1973, Denver’s economy fell into a tailspin. Unemployment and vacancy rates were sky high and smog filled the once crisp, clean mountain air.

Denver has seen tremendous economic diversification and transformation since then.

Today, Denver has one of the most diverse economies in America. We now boast strong industries across multiple sectors, including: Aerospace, Aviation, Bioscience, Energy, Healthcare, Information Technology and Software, and Telecommunications. This diversification has fueled strong economic growth over the last 30+ years and has also insulated Denver (to a certain extent) from some of the major corrections in the national economy.

Denver is also now attracting a fresh generation of workers with newly booming industries including: Cannabis, Brewing, Outdoor/Recreation, Tourism, and more. These new industries have also strengthened the presence of companies in the Manufacturing and Supply Chain space.

Improvement to transportation systems, the large number of parks, close proximity to the mountains and all sorts of outdoor activities (skiing, hiking, climbing), and 300 days of sunshine have also led to massive influx of younger residents. This rapid injection of millennials to the job force has also made Denver a new magnet for technology companies.

Denver’s post-COVID economy will likely rebound faster than the rest of the country.

The diversification here in Denver should enable us to weather this COVID-19 storm better than other major metropolitan areas in the United States. Aviation, hospitality, and tourism will all likely suffer massive losses in the months and years to come, but Denver is well-positioned to come out of this economic slump stronger than ever.