The Boulder Chamber: Building Community through Business for Over a Century
Over 100 years ago, the Boulder Chamber was established with an ambitious goal: “To establish Boulder as a booming metropolis and the best place to live and work.” The Chamber was founded in the tradition of those who advocated early on to host the state’s flagship university, and in whose tradition Boulder would go on to attract leading laboratories and businesses. Throughout, the Boulder Chamber has played an essential role in community progress.
But even as Boulder has established itself as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, the community’s and the Chamber’s efforts are unfinished. The Chamber continues to work with a variety of community interests to promote sustained economic vitality and to fulfill its original goal.
The Founding Years: Foresight for Responsible Development
Boulder began as a mining community in the 1800s, amid both friendship and conflict with Chief Niwot and his people. Boulder Valley’s newcomers saw the potential to build lasting prosperity by fostering innovation-driven expansion. They advocated with leaders in Denver to bring the state’s first university to their community (instead of hosting the state prison). The University of Colorado Boulder opened its doors in 1877. Soon the citysaw the establishment of Chautauqua and the birth of a vibrant cultural scene. It also began purchasing land to preserve the spectacular local environment.
City founders realized the need and promise in attracting visitors and businesses to help the community thrive. So, in 1905, a group of business owners and city leaders formed the “Boulder Commercial Association” with the principal goal of promoting the community’s economic vitality. Business leaders championed the building of the landmark Hotel Boulderado to house visitors, and they also formed committees to begin important work on the big issues of the day, advocating for transportation investments, education and engaging in legislative affairs, and land-use decisions.
So early on, city leaders saw the wisdom of creating an association dedicated to marshaling the resources of the business community to establish the foundation for continued economic opportunity and prosperity.
Dawn of Boulder’s “Economic Miracle”
Throughout the early 1900s, Boulder’s tourist industry flourished. The University’s population grew. In an important policy initiative, the city’s business interests—spearheaded in part by Chamber president Francis “Franny” Reich—supported the building of the Denver-Boulder Turnpike. In 1950, after the Secretary of Commerce had selected Boulder as the site for the National Bureau of Standards and the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory, citizens of Boulder, again with support from the business community, raised the money to purchase the needed land and ceded it to the federal government.
Thus truly began an innovation-driven boom. In the mid-1900s, Boulder saw advanced technology businesses like Ball Aerospace start here, and large companies like IBM move to Boulder, creating new jobs for Boulder’s growing population. Celestial Seasonings was started in Boulder and has become one of the world’s largest producers of tea. The Naropa Institute, founded by Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, opened its doors in 1974, and the Boulder School of Massage Therapy made its debut in 1976.
Throughout this period of strong economic growth, the Boulder Chamber played a significant role, working with a variety of other community organizations and leaders. This role continued into the next phase of Boulder’s amazing economic success.
The Rise of the “Innovation-driven Economy”
Since the mid-1990s, Boulder has become a leader in technology startups and other entrepreneurial endeavors. For example, it’s seen the rise of technology-focused companies such as Rally Software; food and beverage companies such as the Big Red F Restaurant Group; and entertainment venues such as eTown.
In 2013 the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation named Boulder the leader in high-tech startup concentration.. The University of Colorado Boulder has been named one of the top entrepreneurial universities in the country. At the same time, Boulder is consistently listed as one of the nation’s most desirable places to live. It’s been called “America’s Best Town for Startups.” And it’s cited as one of the most innovative cities in the nation. It also has the distinction of being named “Foodiest Town in America” by Bon Appétit magazine.
As a result, even during the recent recession, Boulder’s economy has continued to thrive, thanks to its diverse and innovative community. And again throughout, the Boulder Chamber has partnered with other local and regional organizations, businesses and creative individuals to help drive our innovation ecosystem. For example, through its Boulder Economic Council, the Chamber has helped support and retain vital businesses like Google. The Chamber also works with the City of Boulder’s Economic Vitality Program and community organizations such as Better Boulder and the Community Foundation of Boulder County.
By offering an increasing variety of services, advocating for business interests, and offering vital support for the community’s economic vitality, the Chamber has become Boulder’s flagship business advocacy and support organization. And in the process, the Chamber has been fulfilling its original goal “to establish Boulder as a booming metropolis and the best place to live and work.”