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Going Intercontinental: Lessons From Munich 

Every year, the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation rallies more than 130 business, nonprofit and government leaders to travel to another city to see what we can learn from the community there. We call it Leadership Exchange – or as you may have seen on social media, LEX. This year, for the first time ever, we went intercontinental to learn from the city of Munich, Germany.

Although a long way from home, Munich shares a lot in common with Denver. We share a quality of life that comes with being located near mountains and recreation; a smart and productive workforce; a strong mix of small, medium and large companies with a growing start-up community; and world-class cultural offerings. We also share some similar challenges like workforce readiness; traffic congestion (described by the deputy mayor of Munich as traffic plateaus rather than peaks); and the rising cost of housing. As is typical for LEX trips, it’s with those challenges that we learned the most.

After touring BMW’s production plant, meeting IBM’s Watson, learning about the research and development in the region and attending a philharmonic concert, energy coalesced around two programs in the region: innovative affordable housing strategies and apprenticeships.

While in Munich, a group of LEX delegates traveled to a GEWOFAG affordable housing development for refugees. Nestled in a high-end neighborhood, the development was completed in a quarter of the time it usually takes to design and build a multi-family housing unit. It includes 100 units and a rooftop garden and was built on a city-owned parking lot – preserving all but four parking spaces and reducing land cost significantly. It was a creative way to roll out much-needed housing. Using publicly owned parking lots in this manner is certainly an idea worth exploring in our metro area as we continue to face rising housing costs and lack of affordable units.

Apprenticeships are another area that delegates were particularly excited about. In Munich, apprenticeships are the rule, not the exception. At Iwis, a timing chain manufacturer that provides materials for every BMW engine, 10 percent of its workforce is apprentices. And those apprentices have a 100 percent job-placement rate. From hotels to banks to office services to manufacturing facilities, delegates saw apprenticeship programs that combined formal education, technical degrees and on-the-job training. In Munich, there is a clear understanding of the value of direct experience. It’s a model Colorado continues to move toward with programs like Career Wise and the Chamber’s own Denver Opportunity Youth Initiative. Building talent to meet our workforce needs is key to our future economic success and if we get it right will continue to provide Colorado a competitive advantage.

We are so grateful that our Leadership Foundation delivers this opportunity for civic leaders from Colorado to learn (OK, maybe we are stealing  ) the best ideas from another region. A huge thank you to the Leadership Foundation team for taking on this challenge and trip!

Check out some of our highlights.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.