FILE - Busy intersection in Denver, Colorado

Busy intersection in Denver, Colorado.

Thanks to the heroism of hospital workers, grocery store staff, warehouse employees, delivery drivers and so many others, we are slowly but surely winning the war against COVID-19. Here in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis has set a target date for lifting a statewide stay-at-home order – assuming we continue to slow the spread of the virus – of April 26.

This date, according to the governor, is “several days ahead of the national goal” of April 30 for easing stay-at-home orders and other forms of social distancing. Under the right conditions, Colorado’s stay-at-home order could be lifted even sooner, Polis said during a televised address to the state on April 6.

Time will tell whether the facts on the ground support these goals. But I suspect most Coloradans feel the same way the governor does: They want to beat COVID-19 better and faster than the rest of the nation and help lead our country out of this unprecedented public health emergency.

But when that occurs, will our economy follow suit? Will Colorado overcome the economic damage caused by COVID-19 better and faster than the rest of the nation? What will it take to get our state economy back on track, regain our losses, and return to growth as soon as possible?

These are tough questions. Answering them won’t be easy. But we don’t have to start from scratch.

Ten years ago, Colorado helped lead the nation out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. The lessons learned from that recovery can help our economy bounce back again.

The Great Recession lasted from December 2007 to June 2009. Five years after it ended, Colorado PERA examined the pace of our state’s recovery and what was driving it. PERA manages five major pension funds for public employees in Colorado, with tens of billions of dollars under management, according to the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, where I’m a fellow.

“The job growth in Colorado since the start of the recession has been especially strong when compared to the rest of the nation,” PERA wrote in a message to its members. Colorado created jobs five times faster than the national average, in fact.

PERA also identified the stand-out sectors in Colorado’s economy: “[W]orkers in the energy sector grew by 11.9 percent and the leisure and hospitality sector added 6.8 percent more jobs. Following close behind, healthcare added 5.5 percent and a rebirth of manufacturing added 4.5 percent more jobs to that sector.”

PERA’s review of the economic recovery was based on 2014 data and analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which oversees Colorado and six other states. The Fed also identified construction and professional and business services as some of Colorado’s top performing industries.

These high-level numbers cannot capture all the details of Colorado’s recovery from the Great Recession – but there are still some clear lessons.

Energy, hospitality, health care, manufacturing, construction: These five sectors helped pull Colorado out of the last recession. They also happen to be some of the hardest hit industries in our state economy right now.

Therefore, if these sectors can bounce back strongly from the COVID-19 crisis, history suggests they will spur demand across other industries, too. That will help the entire economy return to growth as quickly as possible, just like last time. The COVID-19 recovery won’t be a carbon copy of the recovery from the Great Recession, of course, but there’s bound to be some overlap.

So what about the role of government? Right now, the federal government is greasing the rails of recovery with trillions of dollars in payments, loans and other forms of support for workers and businesses. But what will officials at the state Capitol do? At the moment, that is less clear.

Experts in economic development are hopeful state officials will be full partners in getting businesses and workers back on their feet and returning the state to growth.

“I think the discussion definitely shifts back to the fundamentals,” said Jeff Holwell, director of economic development for the City of Lone Tree and a former chief operating officer of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce. “Creating jobs. Helping businesses grow and invest in our communities. We aren’t going to argue or complain about growth. People are going to welcome growth.”

“It’s back to basics,” said Kevin Hougen, president and CEO of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce. “It’s time to go old school: Checking in, asking businesses how they are holding up, and listening.”

To be sure, Colorado has a long climb ahead. But because of what we are doing today, and what we have learned from the recent past, we can lead the country back to growth – again.


Simon Lomax is a researcher and adviser to free-enterprise groups and business coalitions in energy, healthcare, education, housing and other economic sectors. He is a former Bloomberg News reporter and a former congressional fellow with the American Political Science Association. The views expressed are his own.