Three booming businesses that make Denver stand out

Three booming businesses that make Denver stand out

A concert venue built into a natural rock formation outside of Denver, CO

Amy Sparwasser | iStock Editorial | Getty Images

This story is part of CNBC’s quarterly Cities of Success series, which explores cities that have transformed into business hubs with an entrepreneurial spirit that has attracted capital, companies and employees.

Two cities in Colorado are experiencing tech-fueled economic booms, with Denver’s skyline transforming and Boulder’s gross domestic product surging. This growth is driven by a mix of factors, including a strong military presence, leading universities, and a focus on high-tech industries such as aerospace and quantum tech, as reported in CNBC’s primetime special “Cities of Success: Denver & Boulder,” which airs April 11 at 10 p.m. EDT.

However, the influx of people and businesses has brought challenges like a growing homeless population, affordability issues and infrastructure strain. 

While the tech boom benefits both cities economically, Denver stands out because it continues to see growth in other areas: professional sports, a popular outdoor recreation venue, and a cannabis industry that is expected to see double-digit growth in the future.

Cannabis correction, not retreat

Marijuana plants at a grow facility in Denver.

Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In the past decade, legal marijuana sales have added a staggering $15 billion to Colorado’s economy, with nearly $3 billion of that coming from taxes.

“Cannabis is a strong sector. [It represents] tens of thousands of jobs in Colorado — billions of dollars of economic activity,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told CNBC in a recent interview.

The city of Denver has benefited significantly, with marijuana sales surpassing $6 billion since 2014. According to data from the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, the city’s marijuana tax revenue collection crossed the half-billion mark last year, hitting $501.5 million in August 2023.

Despite being a national trailblazer since 2014 — when it was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana — the Centennial State’s cannabis industry has been experiencing a significant decline following the pandemic.

A recent report shows a 24% drop in Denver’s cannabis revenue compared with 2021. Despite this dip, Polis told CNBC that he remains optimistic about the future of marijuana.

Industry experts predict a return to growth. The governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting forecasts a 16% revenue increase for the state overall in 2024, highlighting the industry’s long-term potential.

“There is still healthy growth to be had there. I think it’s just a correction after Covid,” Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said.

Major league moneymakers

Cameron Fleming #73 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High on January 8, 2022 in Denver, Colorado.

Dustin Bradford | Getty Images

Denver’s professional sports scene is also a major revenue generator. The city’s four major league franchises — the Broncos, Nuggets, Rockies and Avalanche — collectively raked in a whopping $1.159 billion in 2022.

This sum places Denver among the top eight earners in professional sports nationwide, competing with cities traditionally recognized as sports powerhouses like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Analysts predict a combined revenue surge of more than 37% by 2030 for Denver’s major franchises, according to sports betting guide website OLBG.

Beyond professional teams, the University of Colorado Boulder’s football program made headlines with the hiring of legendary NFL star Deion Sanders as head coach. This strategic move resulted in a big financial impact: Ticket sales skyrocketed by over $20 million, according to the University of Colorado Boulder, doubling the previous year’s figures.

Coach Prime’s influence extends beyond the stadium, with Visit Boulder estimating his economic impact on the region at $113.2 million.

A stage for economic success

A concert at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre outside Denver.

John P Kelly | The Image Bank Unreleased | Getty Images

Denver’s famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre isn’t just a legendary music venue — it’s a major economic force.

A long list of famous artists have graced its stage, from the Beatles to Billie Eilish, while others like U2 and Stevie Nicks have filmed concerts there. Even during the tough times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the entirely outdoor venue broke records in 2021, becoming the world’s most-attended concert venue, according to Billboard Magazine.

A recent Denver-sponsored study revealed that the 9,500-seat venue generates a massive $717 million in regional economic output annually.

Red Rocks ranked as the fourth-busiest entertainment venue globally in 2023, according to Billboard, just behind New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

Experts attribute this success partly to the venue’s unique geography and location at 6,450 feet above sea level, creating unparalleled acoustics. Helping the smaller venue compete with spaces that can accommodate larger crowds is the fact that during the 2022 concert season, Red Rocks hosted a concert nine out of every 10 days.

Events at the venue support an estimated 7,300 jobs and generate a payroll of roughly $216 million annually. Out-of-state visitors attending concerts in 2023 injected over $300 million into the region, benefiting hotels, restaurants, transportation and retail sectors.

TUNE IN: The “Cities of Success” special featuring Denver and Boulder will air on CNBC on April 11 at 10 p.m. ET.


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