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.

Our Story

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.

About the Authors

Annie Roethel Field

Annie Roethel Field

Annie’s career has been built around one central core belief; that your circumstance in life should not dictate the success you are able to make.

That belief has lead Annie to work with all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.  She coordinated food bank logisitics at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin in 2008 and worked at low-income housing facilities for seniors where she helped them access resources to improve their quality of life.  In 2011 she received her Masters in International Development from the University of Denver where she focused on Microfinance and Latin America.  During this time she also ran the Center on Rights Development, an academic center that works to advocate for individuals access to basic human rights.  Upon completing her degree, she began working with low-income entrepreneurs at Rocky Mountain Microfinance Institute.  It is here she was able to couple her love of individual empowerment to business ownership.  Since joining RMMFI in 2013, she has helped launch over 100 businesses and has learned what it really takes to start and run a micro-business.  Annie still works at RMMFI teaching the Business Launch Boot Camp in the evenings and is honored to teach the skills that ultimately help others own their futures, lives and businesses.

Originally from Prescott, Ariz., Annie earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Arizona State University.  She was a Flinn Scholar and has had the privilege of traveling the world in pursuit of answers (when really, she only found more questions.).  She now lives in Arvada, Colo. with her husband, Matthew, and her sister is just up the road.

Kathryn Roethel Rieck

Kathryn Roethel Rieck

Kathryn’s career has taken her through newsrooms, universities, nonprofit organizations and state government, all tied together by storytelling.

She has held communications leadership roles at several nonprofit organizations, including director of digital communication and marketing for Rocky Mountain PBS in 2015, communications director for The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan in 2009, and writer at The Make-A-Wish Foundation of America in 2006. She started her career as a speechwriter for Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano in 2003.

She earned her master’s degree in 2010 from Stanford University’s Graduate Program in Journalism where she co-founded the Peninsula Press, the local news site where journalism students publish their class work in conjunction with local media partners including the San Francisco Chronicle’s website and the Bay Area NPR affiliate, KQED. After graduation, the Stanford journalism program hired Kathryn as the Peninsula Press’s first managing editor, where she served until 2013. She was also a weekly contributor to The San Francisco Chronicle’s health section and Sunday Style section from 2010-2014.

Originally from Prescott, Ariz., Kathryn earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science at Northern Arizona University in 2005. She was a finalist for the Rhodes and Truman scholarships. She now lives in Denver with her husband, Matt, and her sister just down the road.