Breaking Down Barriers to Entrepreneurship, Homeownership

The economy is looking better every day. Colorado’s labor force participation is third strongest in the nation at 68.5%. Our Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation’s active prospect list contains more qualified leads for companies considering expansion or relocation to metro Denver than in any of the past six years. And new business filings posted record gains in the second quarter, increasing 25.7% year over year.

But we know there’s more behind those numbers through our work with Prosper CO. We want to know whether everybody is able to access the opportunities available through our growing economy. Prosper CO has the most comprehensive data on the disparities for women and people of color in our region and we are using that information to drive our strategies and break down barriers. Here’s a recap of some of what we’ve been up to the past few months.

In partnership with our Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, we are creating a procurement database that will connect employers who want to diversify their vendors with businesses owned by women and people of color. Soon, we’ll have this database in place so our members can easily invite more diverse businesses to bid on work with their companies. (If you want to be included in this database, contact Denver Metro SBDC Director China Califf with our SBDC.)

Many of our members have been working to diversify their supply chains and relationships for some time. Pinnacol Assurance, Colorado’s largest workers’ compensation insurance carrier and longtime Chamber investor, has been working with Prosper CO and the SBDC to make sure the company’s 11,000 vendors with $200 million in business are more representative of the region’s demographics. Read the case study on the Pinnacol’s work.

Our members are committed to ensuring the success of these small businesses as well. Comcast through its Comcast RISE program has awarded 62 Colorado small businesses owned by people of color with the opportunity to receive marketing, creative, media and technology services. Recipients are announced at the end of each quarter. The current deadline to apply is Oct. 16.

Building Wealth Through Homeownership

Home equity is the most common way families begin to build wealth, and while we’re happy that so many people want to move to our region, we know it comes with a cost, literally – rising home prices. In July, the median housing price hit $544,400.

Earlier this year, the Milken Institute ranked Denver as the 11th best-performing large city in 2021. But housing affordability is one of the things keeping us from being higher. Denver ranks 141 out of the largest 200 metro areas in the nation when it comes to housing affordability. That reality hurts our workforce and that workforce means everything to our economic success.

We all know that people of color have long been left out of homeownership opportunities. In 2017, Black and Latinx people accounted for 25% of the metro region’s population, but only 12% of workers earning the regional average wage of $63,080. Fewer than half of Black Coloradans and 54% of Latinx Coloradans own their homes, compared to nearly three-quarters of white Coloradans. And, our members are committed to changing this reality.

It’s why we’re advocating for key policy changes with our lawmakers. This last legislative session, we supported three bills that will help address housing affordability.

We also hosted an event with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and are continuing a conversation with 14 Denver metro area mayors to talk about ways we can update zoning codes to allow for accessory dwelling units and more duplexes and triplexes, which reduces land costs helping lower the final cost of a home.

Once again, our members are stepping up in this area, too. FirstBank recently launched the PATH (Providing Access to Homeownership) grant program, which strives to remove barriers to homeownership for the Black and African American community in Colorado through down payment assistance of up to $20,000. FirstBank is also partnering with The Dearfield Fund to further assist with down payments for Black and African American first-time homebuyers. While FirstBank’s PATH program is a true grant with no required repayment, the Dearfield Fund is an equity share program. Both are great resources for borrowers who need down payment assistance. FirstBank recently shared more about their diversity work in a Prosper CO case study.

This fall, Prosper CO will continue to share strategies that employers can implement to ensure we are building an economy that works for everybody. Don’t miss the latest news. Subscribe to the Prosper CO newsletter and learn more about getting involved by reaching out to Lorena Zimmer.

Stay well everybody.

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