Colorado has long punched above its weight in the tech business, led by telecom and aerospace companies that benefited from the state’s central location and wide-open spaces.
In recent years, the city of Boulder in particular has been a hotbed of startup activity; Colorado ranked eighth nationally among all states in VC investment last quarter, according to the National Venture Capital Association. (It’s 22nd in population.) Colorado is still a very small player compared with Silicon Valley or New York or Seattle, but it’s well ahead of most heartland states.
Governor John Hickenlooper, a business-minded Democrat, is an ideal cheerleader for the industry. A former petroleum geologist and brew-pub entrepreneur who got his start in politics as mayor of Denver, he’s carved out a strong political niche as a pragmatic, “purple state” politician who knows how to get things done.
Gov. Hickenlooper’s once-overwhelming popularity has slipped recently as he’s grappled with divisive issues like gun control, immigration and oil-field “fracking,” and he faces a tough re-election this fall.
But the state’s economy is strong, with unemployment at 5.5%. And the 62-year-old Gov. Hickenlooper, who is given to goofy stunts—this week he was inviting his Twitter followers to guess his age in a childhood picture posted to Instagram—has largely retained the down-to-earth manner and entrepreneurial spirit that have been the key to his political career.
The Information caught up with Gov. Hickenlooper at the Colorado State Capitol to discuss the state’s appeal as a tech center, the policy initiatives aimed at supporting the industry and Colorado’s most famous recent innovation—the legalization of marijuana.