Colorado’s Pitch For New Business: Healthy, Lean Workers Cost Less

The cost of doing business may be lower in areas where there’s a “culture of health.”  And that’s put Colorado, which has the lowest adult obesity rate in the nation, on the map for companies looking to relocate or expand.

Kelly Brough is proud of this.  She runs the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and she’s creative about luring businesses to relocate in Colorado.  For instance, she runs a “Colorado loves California” campaign.

“We do it on Valentine’s Day,” she says.  “The CEOs actually do get valentines from us. And it’s been a real creative, cool way to say to companies, ‘We know you’re out there, and we think you may be interested.’”

Brough says if Colorado can catch a corporate executive’s eye, she’s got the numbers to hook them. And she’s talking about more than just the typical tax breaks and labor costs.

“Our obesity rate being the lowest in the nation ranked extremely high for the companies we recently attracted,” she said at a luncheon for Denver health leaders.

When Brough meets with businesses, she touts Colorado’s low rates of common chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease, and cancer — among the ones that cost companies a lot of money in health insurance claims.

This is one big reason a Fortune 500 company called DaVita recently moved its corporate headquarters to Denver, says Kent Thiry, DaVita’s CEO.

“We were confident that Colorado and Denver had a better chance at creating a differentially healthy city over the next 30 to 40 years than a number of other locations,” he says.

Thiry chalks that up in part to a culture in Colorado that has long valued health, fitness and quality of life.  He says it’s helped him recruit the executives his company needs at its headquarters in Denver, and the young, college-educated professionals he wants to hire.

“A healthier team actually does better work, and leads a happier life.  So that both the company and the individuals are better off if it’s a healthier environment,” he says.

Thiry talks about health in terms of his employees’ quality of life, but the bottom line is key, and he wants his company to save millions by having fewer employees on sick leave and by having lower health costs.

Labor market analyst Robert Marsh works for the commercial real estate giant CBRE and helps companies find labor pools the same way brokers help them find real estate.  He says most executives still remain focused on specific skill sets and levels of education when shopping for a workforce. But the health of a prospective location’s population is becoming more critical, he says.

“I think it’s just around the corner in terms of being at least something that’s going to be critically looked at more and more, if not becoming a standard in the overall process of location analysis,” Marsh says.

Even as the Denver Chamber’s Brough puts the Mile-High City at the forefront of that trend, she’s worried about Colorado losing its edge. Colorado ranks 29th in the country in childhood obesity, and that rate is rising faster than most other places in the country.  She’s making her own staff more health conscious and urging other business leaders to do the same. And the Chamber is a partner in the state’s big collaborate effort to improve childhood nutrition and to encourage exercise.

This story is part of a partnership that includes Colorado Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News.