Blue Star Strategies: Attracting foreign direct investment (“FDI”) is clearly a major focus for many U.S. cities. How does Denver approach the challenge of attracting foreign investment—and how does it differentiate itself?
Stephanie Garnica: First and foremost, as the head of the City and County of Denver’s global business development team, I take an individualized, inclusive approach to attracting FDI to our great city. We recognize that if a business is relocating to Denver from another country, it is imperative that they attract the right talent and identify the best physical location for their company’s operations. It is equally important for them to feel comfortable in their new environment by having access to peers and mentors and perhaps contacts from their own home country. My team provides each of these services by providing targeted and meaningful introductions and by extending invitations to key business and investor events in the community. We take pride in being the first and primary “entry point” into Denver’s diverse community of global business professionals and companies.
BSS: How and when did Denver appear on the map for foreign companies and as an investment destination of interest?
SG: Denver has been on the map for a long time and historically has attracted companies from key industries, including energy, professional services, mining, life sciences and, more recently, tech. Over the last three years, the types of foreign firms landing in Denver has diversified to include aerospace along with tech firms from verticals such as fintech, agtech, edtech, proptech, medtech, and cleantech, among others. Denver’s central location in the Mountain West time zone combined with its reputation for being an innovation hub, its talented workforce and entrepreneurial spirit, access to the mountains and nature, and one of the most appealing lifestyles around are all factors that have increased awareness of Denver for global enterprises.
BSS: Denver’s DIA airport currently has direct flights to Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, and London. Any more in the works? What do these connections mean for FDI?
SG: Denver International Airport (DEN) offers nonstop flights to 20 international destinations, including the locations you mention plus Munich, Reykjavik, Zurich, Belize City, Panama City, and multiple cities in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Canada. The airport’s robust U.S. domestic and international route networks are clearly on of Denver’s key calling cards and has been a hugely important asset for attracting FDI. Each of these factors enables a high and sought-after degree of connectivity to clients, customers, new markets, colleagues, the home office, and more. DEN's air service development team is constantly analyzing data to understand passenger needs and is actively working to add new destinations to its network.
BSS: What attracts companies and employers to locate in Denver? What are the main reasons why foreign companies choose Denver?
SG: Denver’s central location (almost in the geographic center of the U.S.), talented workforce, lower cost of doing business than other major cities, collaborative ecosystem, ease of setting up a business, welcoming and inclusive culture, active lifestyle, and four-season weather are just a few of the reasons why companies from around the world choose to come here. From our perspective, we see these factors clearly resonating with both domestic and foreign companies when selecting a U.S. destination in which to establish an office or outpost.
BSS: Which industries are most prominent in Denver? What are the top companies, sectors, and employers that are in Denver?
- Aerospace & Aviation – Astroscale, Exolaunch, Denver International Airport, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines
- Professional Services – Brookfield, Great West Life, Velocity Global
- Biosciences – DaVita, Hearthero
- Energy – Ovintiv, Stantec, BP Americas
- Tech & IT– Gusto, Slack, Salesforce, Optiv, Ibotta, Amazon, Palantir
- Hospitality & Tourism – National Western Stock Show Association, Colorado Convention Center
- Food & Agriculture – Ardent Mills. Leprino Foods, Stranahan’s Whiskey
- Outdoor Recreation – VF Corporation (VFC), BOA Technology Inc.
BSS: What are some examples of foreign companies in Denver? Headquarters? Moved their operations? Opened new operations?
- PointsBet – Australian sports betting company with Denver as its U.S. hub
- Liberty Global – UK based telecom with USHQ in Denver
- Compass Group USA – British multinational contract foodservice company
- Melio – Israeli fintech company with large presence in Denver
- Finder – Australian fintech company recently opened HQ office in Denver
- Tipico – European sports betting company made Denver their U.S. hub
- Montbell – Japanese outdoor retailer with a prominent store on the 16th Street Mall
- Xero – New Zealand fintech company with North American HQ in Denver
- Astroscale – Japanese aerospace firm with U.S. HQ in Denver
- Assignar – Australian software company with office in Denver
- Matillion – British cloud-based data integration platform
- EZ Mile – French autonomous vehicle company
- Exolaunch – German aerospace company
BSS: There has been growing interest by Colorado in investment partnerships with Israel and its high-tech sector, including a joint agreement to increase R&D cooperation. Tel Aviv-based payments company Melio just announced it is opening a new Western headquarters based in Denver. What explains this growth? Are these kinds of partnerships a model Colorado is pursuing with other countries?
SG: Denver and the State of Colorado have had agreements and partnerships in place with Israel for many years thanks to Israeli groups and foundations establishing connections to Colorado in synergistic sectors such as tech, cybersecurity, agriculture, and water. These common areas of expertise have led to R&D cooperation and increased trade and investment.
Denver’s growing fintech cluster, tech talent, and business-friendly ecosystem led to the attraction of Melio into our community. We were the right geographic location for the company to have easier access to clients in certain time zones and our welcoming community, skilled workforce, active lifestyle, and access to resources and community introductions helped the company land here.
When it comes to establishing new joint partnerships with other countries, Denver works to identify tech transfer programs, joint R&D opportunities, entrepreneurial exchanges, and common sectors of interest.
BSS: What foreign countries have had their eye on Denver? Trade missions? What is your approach to engaging these countries?
SG: The governments of Australia, Austria, New Zealand, UK, Canada, Germany, Israel, and Japan are a few of our leading countries that have or are currently exploring opportunities in Denver. We often receive their official trade and investment delegations and representatives in Denver to help them get familiar with our ecosystem, establish connections, and serve as an advocate for helping their companies land successfully in Denver.
One of our flagship programs for hosting delegations is our bi-annual Global Landing Pad program, where global companies from around the world apply to participate in our content-rich ‘soft landing pad program’ that helps them understand how to do business in the U.S. and in Denver, specifically, while introducing them to meaningful contacts to set them up for success.
Our office team engages with our locally-based foreign government Consular Corps representatives, internationally-minded people, globally-focused chambers of commerce, trade and industry associations, and government peers. We regularly attend industry and country focused gatherings and conferences and establish connections that build trust, lead to referrals, and shape strong relationships. Each of these activities helps us to be robustly engaged in our own community and around the globe.
BSS: What new countries or global regions is your office eying? What countries are ripe for new relationships with Denver?
SG: We are currently exploring strengthening ties with countries throughout the Americas and India, while also keeping our finger on the pulse on activities and opportunities in Asia and Africa. We continue to build relationships with different city, state, and federal government agencies, business accelerators, and incubators with a particular focus on Australia and New Zealand, Europe, and the Americas. We value the partnerships already established and appreciate developing a deeper understanding of these markets.
BSS: What are some of the challenges that global companies encounter when they choose to locate in the U.S.? Have you seen foreign companies engage in public policy lobbying and issue advocacy on the concerns that matter most to their business’ bottom-line?
SG: Global companies face the challenge of having a large geographic area from which to choose the right location but might not know enough about the distinctive areas within the U.S. to make a well-informed decision. Many global companies land on the coasts only to learn that it’s expensive to live and do business there, it’s highly competitive, and there’s not much support to get them established and integrated.
The companies that our team has worked with have gained benefit from individual counseling and from participating in our global landing pad where they learn how to navigate and adhere to U.S., state, and municipal regulations. They also gain a better understanding of human resource practices in the U.S., learn about our banking system, understand tax liabilities, and gain access to local experts and resources that can help them tackle other certain or more targeted challenges.
As far as engaging in public policy to lobby for issues that matter most to their business’ bottom line, I am not aware of foreign companies lobbying, but what I have noticed is their desire to maintain high standards of community involvement, hiring people from underserved communities, and maintaining high environmental and sustainability goals and standards.
BSS: What are the steps and strategies your office takes when seeking to identify and attract a target country, industry sector, or specific company to invest or locate in Denver?
SG: We rely on trade and investment data, local industry trends, and economic forecasts plus our direct experiences with the types of businesses and countries where they originate to establish outreach plans, goals, and metrics.
BSS: Where is Denver headed in the future when it comes to FDI?
SG: Denver will continue to rely on trade and investment data, local industry trends, economic forecasts, and direct experiences to build and shape our strategy moving forward and will maintain regular contact and engagement with our network of global partners to establish mutually beneficial outreach plans, activities, goals, and metrics.
BSS: Anything to add in closing?
SG: As Denver grows into its role as a global hub for connections and activity, with new nonstop international destinations being served out of our airport, more foreign companies landing and establishing operations in our city, and more international relationships being established, we will continue to focus on having a welcoming environment in place that facilitates easy integration into our community and access to tools and resources needed for success. We want companies from around the world to know that Denver is the place for global business to innovate and thrive. Come join us!