Colorado is scoring big with business, and it’s due to a triad of factors that lure in entrepreneurs — and that also fall trippingly from the tongue: technology, talent and tourism.
A recent report ranked the state No. 1 for the number of loans given to small businesses and for its concentration of technology businesses. The annual survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also placed Colorado in the top 10 for its talent pool, business climate, infrastructure and economic performance.
In addition to technology and available talent, tourism in Colorado is a major economic driver, and one many businesses are capitalizing on. In Estes Park, for example, tourists spend about $187 million each year at local businesses. That revenue stream helped place Estes Park among NerdWallet’s top 10 places to start a business in Colorado.
We analyzed 85 places in Colorado, each with at least 500 businesses and a population of at least 5,000. We determined the overall score of each place by using data from the U.S. Census Bureau to assess a city’s business climate and economic health. See the end of this study for more details on our methodology.
Making the most of the great outdoors. Skiing, hiking, rafting, fishing and other outdoor activities draw millions of tourists to Colorado’s mountain towns each year, and businesses in cities such as Vail, Aspen and Estes Park are thriving thanks to the spending power of these visitors.
Proximity to Denver is a plus. For our list, bigger isn’t always better. The largest city to crack the top 20 was Grand Junction, which has a population of almost 60,000. Denver, the most populous city we considered, came in at No. 29. But proximity to the state’s capital city can be a bonus for businesses: Two cities in the top 10, Greenwood Village and Lone Tree, are part of the Denver metropolitan area.
Best places to start a business in Colorado
1. Greenwood Village
Greenwood Village’s roughly 4,700 businesses have an average annual revenue per business of over $3.7 million, the highest of any city in this study. The business climate in the area gets a boost from the Denver Tech Center, a business campus of more than 900 acres that spans part of Greenwood Village. Red Robin, a national restaurant chain, is headquartered in the city.
Artists, culinary enthusiasts and outdoor-adventure seekers flock to this Rocky Mountain town and so do the businesses that cater to them. With nearly 46.5 businesses per 100 residents, Aspen has the highest concentration of businesses among places included in this study. The majority of enterprises cater to tourists, who tend to be high earners. Nearly 60% of visitors to Aspen in summer 2014 had an annual household income of $100,000 or higher, and 35.6% of that group earned over $200,000 annually, according to the Aspen Chamber of Commerce.
3. Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is home to nearly 3,500 businesses, almost 35% of which have employees on the payroll. A number of the city’s homegrown businesses have made it big, including SmartWool and Moots Cycles. The latter, a custom-bicycle manufacturer, started as a four-person operation and now employs about 25 full-time workers to make the bicycles it sells around the world.
4. Estes Park
Estes Park is a mountain town that does what mountain towns do best: attract and entertain outdoor enthusiasts. The city is a popular destination for tourists and one of the entry points for Rocky Mountain National Park, which saw over 3.4 million visitors in 2014, according to the National Park Service. Visitors to Estes Park spend $187 million annually at Estes Park’s 1,255 businesses.
5. Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs has held the title of “Most Fun Town in America,” bestowed annually by Rand McNally and USA Today. Each year, the city attracts over 1 million visitors, who come for rafting, fly-fishing, skiing, the hot springs and more and help make Glenwood Springs one of the best places in the state to start a business. About 2,400 businesses operate in Glenwood Springs and collectively earn over $1.46 billion annually.
6. Cañon City
Cañon City has one of the highest percentages of businesses with paid employees on this list. One reason for this: The city’s median annual income of $36,300 makes it affordable for businesses to add employees to the payroll. Although the town draws tourists for whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River and sightseeing at the Royal Gorge Bridge, the economy isn’t solely driven by tourism. Health care is a major employer in Cañon City, second only to federal and state correction centers, and the city’s business incubator space helps entrepreneurs get their ventures off the ground.
Durango is enjoying its slice of the boom that’s seeing technology businesses thrive in the state. Mercury, a payment-processing company, is one such success story. The Durango-based company grew to over 400 employees before selling for $1.65 billion in 2014. More than 3,800 businesses operate in Durango, drawing a total revenue of over $2.78 billion.
Business is booming in Golden. The city’s nearly 2,700 companies have an average revenue per business of $1,793,125, which is among the highest of the cities in this study. That figure gets a boost from MillerCoors — and the beer magnate’s Golden Brewery, also known as the Coors Brewery, is one of the “largest single-site breweries in the world,” according to the company. Enterprises such as Steelhead Composites and Outlast Technologies are headquartered in Golden, which is also home to the Colorado School of Mines.
Originally established as the base village for a ski resort, the mountain town still is powered by tourism. Although the community only has about 5,300 residents, Vail Resorts hosts millions of visitors each year, primarily for world-class skiing. Vail is home to annual events such as the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships and has hosted several Alpine World Ski Championships. The town is also making an effort to diversify its economy so businesses can thrive year-round.
10. Lone Tree
An educated workforce and low tax rates help make this southern Denver suburb a prime spot for businesses. Nearly 65% of residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the city, and Lone Tree has a low municipal tax rate and no city property tax. The 2,000 businesses operating in Lone Tree have an average revenue per business of $1.5 million, which is among the highest of the cities we analyzed for this study.