Q&A With Randy Thelen, Vice President of Economic Development
Randy Thelen joined the Partnership as Vice President of Economic Development on Jan. 8, beginning his role in guiding economic development and growing Denver’s thriving economic base. This broad base of work includes attracting investment to the center city, business recruitment and retention, housing, retail, and public policy initiatives, as part of the Partnership’s vision to create an economically powerful center city. Thelen also joins the Partnership’s Executive Management Team and will help guide the strategic direction of the organization.
Randy came to the Partnership from the Greater Omaha Chamber (Chamber) where he served as senior vice president of economic development, responsible for developing and implementing Chamber initiatives to attract and support the growth of new business and help existing businesses expand.
We sat down with Randy as he steps into the role to discuss the goals and opportunities for economic development in Downtown Denver.
Why is Downtown Denver important?
Our center city is vitally important to everyone across the region, whether you live in Aurora or Westminster or any place in between. Downtown Denver is our cultural center, offering every type of art form imaginable; Downtown Denver is our community gathering place, where we celebrate championships or march in support of our favorite causes; Downtown Denver is the front door to our community, welcoming visitors and new residents alike. Downtown Denver is a reflection of who we are and what we aspire to be.
What is your overall impression of Downtown Denver and the Downtown Denver Partnership?
Impressive! Downtown is alive with people, events, corporate headquarters, tech startups, arts, restaurants and retail. And there is strong development activity, with great new buildings and historic rehab projects, signaling that the market continues to see opportunity in Downtown. This momentum does not happen by accident. To achieve the type of transformation that Downtown Denver has realized requires a bold vision, a strong strategic plan, committed leadership and a team—staff and volunteers—to deliver the results. The Downtown Denver Partnership has been a driving force on all of these fronts.
What are some of the biggest opportunities you see around economic development in Downtown Denver and/or what excites you about the potential?
Denver, and the center city in particular, has come of age over the past 10-20 years. Looking forward, the key will be to keep pushing to be among the best cities nationally and globally. This means ensuring our center city remains a Downtown for all—affordable housing, quality jobs, great retail experiences and entertainment opportunities that appeal to all walks of life.
Downtown Denver is the economic hub of the region. And with the extensive multi-modal transit offerings, we have created an urban live-work experience that is second to none in the country. Companies, big and small, seeking to find top talent will not find a better location than the center city.
From your experience, what is the most important thing a city can do thrive economically?
In my more than 20 years in economic development, the ‘most important thing’ has transitioned from infrastructure to incentives to now talent. As many cities are realizing more retirements than graduations, the competition for top talent has never been more intense. The fact is, in the next 10 years, there will be winners and losers. Denver, which has made incredible investment in transit and has a strong strategic vision for the center city, is already among the leaders in the race to attract and retain talent. We must keep investing in areas that are attractive to young people. I met a seasoned Denver developer the other day who said it best: “If I built projects to my tastes, I would be broke. I build for the younger generations.” In so many ways, Denver follows this thinking of building for the future, not just today.
What’s one big goal you’d like to accomplish in your first year?
We have so much going for us in Denver. As a frame of reference, we are one of only ten markets in the country that have five professional sports teams (football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer). That puts us on par with the biggest and best cities in the country. Looking forward, we now want to grow our reputation as a great global city, one that is on the cutting edge of innovation and technology.
Anything else you would like to add?
Economic development is a team sport. I am looking forward to working with civic and business leaders who are committed to making Downtown Denver one of the most economically powerful center cities in the country. I expect that we will have a fine-tuned economic development machine that leverages the collective strengths of the City and County of Denver, Metro Denver EDC, the State of Colorado Economic Development Department and our stakeholder base. When we do that, the results will follow.