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Advice to Colorado: Build on strengths

In their book on American corporations, In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman found that successful corporations are those that stick to their knitting, build on their strengths, add value to existing activities.

They also found that corporations get in trouble when they get into new lines of business far removed from their experience, their network of contacts and their existing know-how and resources.

This same idea – sticking to your knitting – is a good principle to follow in thinking about the future of a region, a state or a community. Communities need to build on their strengths rather than chase footloose companies that want to expand to a new location. As Dizzy Dean used to say, “it’s important to dance with those who brung ya.”

Colorado has many existing strengths, areas where new economy industries can be built on the foundations of the old. Consider, for example, Colorado’s Many strengths in energy, mining and new materials.

Consider new materials technology – ceramics, fiber optics, composites and polymers – where Colorado School of Mines, Coors and other Colorado companies have seized a leadership role.

While many consider energy and mining to be old economy industries, both have been transformed by the application of advanced technologies. These include the use of remote sensing in mineral exploration and the use of chemical leaching in the production of some mineral resources.

In addition, the geoengineering and geotechnology specialties that are foundations of energy and mining also support related industries. These include large-scale excavation, tunneling and underground construction.

This kind of technology is increasingly used worldwide in everything from hazardous and toxic waste management systems to underground storage and transportation systems. In fact, the annual meeting of the Minneapolis-based American Underground Space Association is in Denver this week.

Colorado has an abundance of world-class talent in geotechnology. Many key institutions are in Colorado, including the School of Mines, the U.S. Geological Survey, the headquarters of the Society of Mining Engineers, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the U.S. bureau of Reclamation and the world headquarters of major business organizations such as Newmont Mining Corp.

Efforts are now under way to build on these strengths by establishing the GEM Corridor in Colorado. GEM stands for geotechnology, energy, environment, materials and minerals.

Business leaders Bill Coors and Cypress Minerals chief Kenneth Barr, Gov. Roy Romer and Ron Catanny of state government, and School of Mines president George Ansell are leading the GEM industries.

This is a creative initiative that represents a sound approach to economic development. And it helps everyone understand that some important old economy industries are being transformed into new economy leaders by the application of advanced technologies.

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