Denver’s Unusual Post-Recession Economy Inspires Reporting Project

The United States has recovered from the Great Recession.

That’s what they told us in the summer of 2014, when the United States had officially regained all 8.7 million jobs it lost during the 2008 financial crisis. Except, in many, many places, the economy didn’t feel all that recovered.

That’s because the job growth was geographically uneven. Like, very uneven.

Census data analysis from the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan think tank of economists, investors and entrepreneurs, revealed the country’s biggest counties (the ones with more than 500,000 people) launched 81 percent of the new businesses in the Great Recession recovery period of 2010-2014. And Denver County was one of the big contributors.

In fact, the report found Denver was one of only 15 big counties in the entire nation that had a better economic recovery this time around than it did after the previous two recessions (in the early 2000s and the early 1990s). The other counties on the list were largely concentrated in Silicon Valley or the New York Metro area, with a few more in the Rust Belt, one in Florida and one in Texas.

Denver County outperformed in both the number of jobs created and the number of new businesses launched during the recovery. As the report’s authors put it, Were it not for these relatively few pockets of resiliency,” like Denver, “the U.S. economy would have seen near-total stagnation in its business landscape.”

Denver is doing something many counties envy but few others have managed. So we wanted to learn more about the small business owners setting the pace here. Those who defied national odds by launching businesses and creating jobs in a time of economic recovery. And Owning My Own, a year-long reporting and blogging project, was born.

We are two sisters – one journalist and one instructor for a nonprofit Business Launch Boot Camp. Combined, we’ve lived in more than a dozen cities over the last 15 years, but Denver is the first one we’ve lived in together since leaving our hometown of Prescott, Ariz. For this reason, Denver is a special place to us personally, besides being a great place for many people professionally. Owning My Own gave us an opportunity to combine our talents and team up on a project that revealed the people at the heart of Denver’s economic growth and success.

Throughout 2016, we profiled small business owners in the Denver metro area about the best – and toughest – realities of their day-to-day lives. Some asked us questions – which Annie, the business coach, happily wrote answers to. Others offered their best tips and shared products and services they thought could help fellow small business owners.

At the end of the year, some of the businesses we’d profiled were expanding. Others were facing new competition and wondering whether they needed to redefine themselves, and a few owners had even decided to shutter and move on to new challenges. But all of their stories, their questions, and their insights complete a historical snapshot, illustrating of what it was like to be ‘Owning My Own business’ in an economic time and place unlike almost any other in the country.