Colorado Technology Association aims to steer state into the future
Author: Ernest Luning - January 18, 2017 - Updated: January 19, 2017
Colorado’s technology industry is booming, and Andrea Young couldn’t be happier.
Young, the president and CEO of the Colorado Technology Association, a trade organization that represents more 300 companies and counts some 15,000 people involved in its network, said in a recent interview with The Colorado Statesman that she’s excited about the prospects for the tech sector in the state as CTA continues its work to bring companies, academic institutions and government entities together.
It’s a sprawling endeavor, encompassing everything from workforce development to high-speed internet access, innovative technologies and industries to old-fashioned schmoozing.
And after Gov. John Hickenlooper last week highlighted major recent CTA initiatives — including education opportunities for tomorrow’s technology workers, a push to finish building the state’s broadband network and the state’s role creating the emerging National Cybersecurity Center — in his State of the State address before a joint session of the General Assembly, Young said she was thrilled that Colorado is continuing as a leader in technology.
“We support and are encouraged by the governor’s efforts to provide equal access to technology for everyone in Colorado, whether it’s new skills for a career in tech or broadband at home,” Young said. “We’re also excited that Colorado Springs continues to grab the spotlight for its role as a cybersecurity hub. As a partner in launching the National Cybersecurity Center, we believe there’s endless opportunity for the state to train a workforce and share expertise in this critical field.”
Colorado is home to more than 14,000 tech companies, including global corporations and digital startups — the state boasts that new companies launch every 72 hours — employing more than 150,000 workers directly. Technology, of course, touches nearly every part of the economy, and virtually every aspect of life in Colorado. Likewise, it has an impact on the industry.
“CTA’s whole design is to advance the tech industry in the state of Colorado,” Young says. And by all appearances, it’s working.
The nonprofit organization began its life as the Colorado Software Association in 1994 — it was the 25th association of its kind in the country — morphing into the Colorado Software and Internet Association and finally, in 2011, assuming its current identity.
Young joined the CTA board a year before that, more than two decades into her own tech career with Colorado companies. After a start in telecommunications, Young went to work for ConferTech, a pioneer in conference technology, and wrote the original specs for the now-ubiquitous corporate earnings call, which was invented in Colorado some 25 years ago.
Then she went to work for Janus Capitol Group just before the investment firm hit its boom years, helping build out its e-commerce offerings and eventually serving as head of technology for the company. She later moved to product development at BI Inc., a Boulder-based company that develops electronic monitoring devices and other public safety applications. After serving on the board for six years, including a stint as chair, she took over as president and CEO of CTA in June.
CTA has its headquarters at The Commons on Champa, a collaborative workspace and business incubator that’s open to the public in downtown Denver. Situated in a brick building between the Colorado Convention Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts — the Colorado Symphony has its offices on the top floor — The Commons is run by Denver’s Office of Economic Development, the Downtown Denver Partnership and CTA.
The building boasts a sprawling Innovation Lounge and Café, as well as a state-of-the-art video conference center and event space, all of which can be reserved at little to no cost by entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations. Start-ups rent office and work space upstairs, down the hall from an economic development office and near the offices and work area occupied by CTA, intended to foster synergy and easy access to resources and collaboration.
One way CTA works to fulfill its mission is to help lawmakers keep up with the technology sector, facilitating an exchange of information between government and industry.
“We try to understand what legislators are thinking about and we try to understand what our industry needs,” Young says. “We’re trying to be that intersection of all that together — things that are pro-business, pro-tech friendly, keeping the state diverse and innovative.”
That includes working to align the state’s education systems with the needs of technology companies.
“One of the critical components of having a sustainable tech industry in the state of Colorado has to do with a strong talent pipeline,” she says. “That could be from K-12, K-20 and making sure people are moving here. That’s the good news, they are moving here — our industry is thriving — but making sure that’s sustainable over the long term.”
Toward that end, CTA has been involved with workforce development and training initiatives, including partnering as the industry component of CareerWise Colorado, which helps develop apprenticeship models for many tech jobs.
It also includes working to keep the state competitive in computer science education, working with the Colorado Education Initiative and school districts to be sure students are encouraged to learn the kind of skills companies say they’ll need.
“We feel it’s really important for us to get going on that because it’s an important component of future occupations,” Young says. “It’s a complex issue because there’s so many dimensions to it. There are the things industry needs, and industry needs to identify those skill sets. Then there are the things the students need, and the schools need to identify the teachers. Making all those things come together — we feel strongly that all the components are in place for it and we need to get it activated.”
Things are lining up well, she says, to update computer science standards next year, as well as working with higher education so districts know what colleges consider good preparation for advanced studies and can make those curricula available.
“It’s on its path from a legislative perspective, but being able to work with all the partners, from the department of education to all the districts, making sure everyone’s talking to each other,” she says.
With more than 10,000 open positions in the tech industry in the state — a number that’s growing — it’s crucial, she says, to be sure Colorado students have the opportunity to be prepared for those jobs.
“You have to think about it from a future-occupations perspective,” Young says. “Many future occupations will require some sort of computer skill set, understanding networking, understanding cybersecurity. With Colorado being the tech hub between the two coasts, it’s really resonating.”
It helps that Colorado is a top destination for members of the millennial generation, she notes, but an educated population doesn’t create itself.
“We have to be able to keep that and be able to build that workforce pipeline. It’s not like this is a short-term issue, it’s a long-term issue, and it’s very fluid. The skills our industry needs to remain competitive — having access to talent and a bigger pool of talent is a very high priority for our industry.”
Equally important, she says, CTA works to bring members large and small together, making it easier for Colorado tech companies to work with each other.
“It makes economic sense and our companies are civic-minded,” she says, “being able to have strong relationships to do business together. That’s a big part of what we try to do is to be able to create that marketplace where individuals can meet each other and do business together.”
The premier annual event to encourage this is known as C-Level at A Mile High, bringing together more than 1,000 tech industry people in March at Sports Authority at Mile High Stadium for a night of networking and the ability to bid on high-level executives, known as celebrities, so smaller companies can get valuable one-on-one time, potentially leading to business.
“It creates that marketplace for them to be able to do business together and build those relationships,” says Young, who was herself auctioned off a few years back at the event, which raises money to fund CTA operations.
CTA also sponsors an annual Colorado Tech Tour in the summer, loading a bus with industry representatives, government partners and others for five days visiting tech sites throughout the state. Last year the tour went to Colorado Springs, Frisco, Vail, Grand Junction, Fort Collins and Longmont. This year’s tour is set for July 31 – Aug. 4.
While there’s plenty of tech going on all over Colorado, she points out, the far-flung tour also highlights some unmet needs.
“Once we get to the point where we have access to reliable broadband all across the state, the ability to work remote and work from anywhere will become more commonplace,” Young says. “Then we’ll have companies able to grow from some of these smaller places, where they’re closer to the assets of Colorado.”
The tour yields local perspectives on issues of importance to CTA.
“Having affordable workforce housing is definitely something we talk about,” she says. “We brought it up in our legislative dinners. It hasn’t been something we’ve taken a position on yet, but we’re identifying what we’re hearing from our membership.”
CTA programs include a legislative briefing set for Jan. 24 at The Commons on Champa featuring Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Batt discussing the RoadX program, which uses emerging technology to better manage and facilitate transportation across the state. This week, CTA is hosting social media training in the Old Supreme Court Chambers for legislators and their staff led by Colorado start-up Echovo. The organization also flies a delegation of members to Washington, D.C., to discuss matters of federal concern — including cybersecurity and new technologies — with the congressional delegation.
“There’s so much going on from a digital perspective. We want to play a role in educating lawmakers about that,” Young says.
That includes self-driving vehicles and what’s known as “smart cities,” two technologies that could change the face of Colorado in coming years.
“We have other organizations that have identified Denver as a market they’d like to be able to do some trial and experimentation in, with either autonomous vehicles and smart cities, as an innovation center,” Young says. “There might be some legislative support required as those things take off, especially with autonomous vehicles, as an example.” It’s happening quickly, she adds, and smart technology will soon require society to grapple with questions such as protecting the resulting infrastructure and assigning liability.
“One thing we also like to make sure the Legislature is considering are things they put in place to regulate tech, either modernizing some of those laws or what they put in place to start,” she says. “Because digital is the new economy, there are so many components of tech that are economic considerations. The first reaction might be to have some level of government control around it. If there’s a compliance requirement, it might make it more difficult for small- and medium-sized businesses to get off the ground. We want to make sure — and that’s why we do our legislative series — that lawmakers know we have a lot of expertise in our industry, so we can help educate them as they’re trying to form that.”
In recent years, CTA — with the help of lead lobbyists Axiom Strategies — has been involved with workforce development, cybersecurity and data privacy, but Young says its too early in the legislative session to identify specific areas of concern yet. “But, especially when we find something has got some momentum, we like to have the opportunity to help create a dialogue,” she says.
“We have great relationships, there’s a great awareness, Axiom does a great job. We have the access and we have the relationships, but we would like those lawmakers loosely involved in the tech caucus to become more actively involved” she says.
“One of the reasons I joined the board with CTA is I wanted to be more involved in the local community because I wanted to stay in Colorado,” Young reflects. “These are things that go across all these sectors. There’s so much dimension to Colorado Technology Association. CTA covers a tremendous amount of ground. It’s a great team, high quality, and our members definitely value us, and we want to continue to be a great value to our members.”