Q&A Innovation Blueprint 3.0

Chamber CEO John Tayer sees Boulder as a hub of innovation

By Kate Jonuska

Appointed CEO and president of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce in December 2012, John Tayer took office with a passion for Boulder and some strong new ideas. He sat down with Boulder Magazine to talk about the city’s economic future and the Chamber’s new initiative, Innovation Blueprint 3.0. 

As someone relatively new to the position, what does it feel like to represent the
Boulder business community?

On a personal level, it’s a convergence with my interest in supporting the community that I love. Boulder has been my home for 24 years, and I recognize the balance of values that makes this community special. We value the environment. We value all our social and cultural assets. A critical element of those values is a strong economy, and I feel very fortunate to be able to represent the interests of the business community in harmony with all the other values we appreciate. 

In terms of being a part of the Chamber, it’s an organization with over a 100-year legacy of supporting the business community and our member businesses. I think [the Chamber] has tremendous opportunities to reflect and support what’s become a strong innovation economy. 

That innovation is obviously a key to your Innovation Blueprint 3.0 program. Why the 3.0 designation?

Innovation Blueprint 3.0 reflects our understanding that Boulder’s economy is rooted, historically rooted, in innovation. That goes back to 1876, when the city landed the University of Colorado. That was the 1.0 effort, and it continued with the efforts the Chamber led to bring federal labs and then companies like IBM and Ball. 

In the 2.0 stage, those laboratories and strong base institutions fostered other creative minds that then started new businesses—companies like Celestial Seasonings, rooted in our natural environment, and companies like GoLite, who are here because of our outdoor-adventure opportunities. 

 3.0 looks at the things we need to do to keep it strong. How does Boulder maintain its status as a hub of innovation? 

What’s the structure of Innovation Blueprint 3.0?

It has five areas of focus, one of them being capital. There’s certainly some strong capital-formation and funding support here, but the strength in capital generally is associated with the coasts. We need to do as good a job as possible drawing those resources to Boulder so that we can support our entrepreneurs.

Second, we need to do a better job marketing this community as an innovation hub. We need to make it clear to the world that this is a place where people have a great, balanced lifestyle. We love the outdoors and the mix of cultural attractions, but we’re also fierce and hard workers who are driving very successful businesses. We need people to know that so they will bring their own business ideas here. 

The more physical aspect of the plan is supporting innovation infrastructure. One piece of that is a conference center, not just for its value to tourism, but also to bring thought leaders to this community. 

Those three sound like very concrete goals. What about the other two?

One is advocacy. Too often the business community is seen as an “other,” as something that may be bumping up against community values. However, I find that our businesses usually share the values that make this community special. As we have a responsibility to represent business interests, we want to be at the table solving many problems that cut across boundaries. For example, affordable housing is important as a social value; it’s also important as a business interest. Supporting transportation solutions that include an emphasis on alternative transportation is another. 

Networking is the last important plank. So often, innovation happens in “silos.” You’ll have an innovation happening in the aerospace industry or the outdoor industry or at the university, but they’re not talking to each other. How can you learn across industries? There are many commonalities. 

In terms of networking, there are a couple other areas of importance to me. One is reaching out to our minority communities, and also to our strong and vibrant nonprofit community. We want those nonprofits to succeed in their missions, because they work on issues that draw people to our community. The creative class, that class of entrepreneurs and other people, is attracted to a wonderful environment, a place with strong education systems, a place where there are cultural amenities. 

It sounds like you believe business and social interests overlap more than most folks realize.

I do, very much, and I think we all saw some of that overlap during our recent floods. It’s amazing how people rise up and support each other. There were lists of businesses making individual contributions, but also human power. At a discussion about repairing our trail system, there were so many individuals and businesses willing to volunteer their time that organizing groups couldn’t handle them all right away. That shows the level of energy and commitment that our business community has to supporting the city and helping it rise out of challenging circumstances. 

How will Innovation Blueprint 3.0 touch the lives of everyday, non-business-owning Boulderites?

In general, you’re going to see a vibrant economy that is attractive for citizens in everything from their shopping experiences to their job opportunities. Plus, innovation that happens in Boulder benefits the entire Denver region and the state, because the success we have in incubating new businesses radiates.

We also want to get the whole community on board with the Blueprint by joining Team Boulder, online or in person. Whether you own a business, work in a business, or just live in this community and understand the value of our businesses, join up. Being a member of Team Boulder means you’re signing up to support our innovation economy. 

For more information about Innovation Blueprint 3.0 and Team Boulder, visit www.teamboulder.org. 

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