The Denver MSA has a gross metropolitan product of $157.6 billion in 2010, making it the 18th largest metro economy in the United States.Denver’s economy is based partially on its geographic position and its connection to some of the country’s major transportation systems. Because Denver is the largest city within 500 miles (800 km), it has become a natural location for storage and distribution of goods and services to the Mountain States, Southwest states, as well as all western states. Another benefit for distribution is that Denver is nearly equidistant from large cities of the Midwest, such as Chicago and St. Louis and some large cities of the West Coast, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Over the years, the city has been home to other large corporations in the central United States, making Denver a key trade point for the country. Several well-known companies originated in or have relocated to Denver. William Ainsworth opened the Denver Instrument Company in 1895 to make analytical balances for gold assayers. Its factory is now in Arvada. AIMCO (NYSE: AIV)—the largest owner and operator of apartment communities in the United States, with approximately 870 communities comprising nearly 136,000 units in 44 states—is headquartered in Denver, employing approximately 3,500 people. Also Samsonite Corp., the world’s largest luggage manufacturer, began in Denver in 1910 as Shwayder Trunk Manufacturing Company, but Samsonite closed its NE Denver factory in 2001, and moved its headquarters to Massachusetts after a change of ownership in 2006. The Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Company, founded in Denver in 1911, is now a part of telecommunications giant CenturyLink.
MediaNews Group purchased the Denver Post in 1987; the company is based in Denver. The Gates Corporation, the world’s largest producer of automotive belts and hoses, was established in S. Denver in 1919. Russell Stover Candies Inc. made its first chocolate candy in Denver in 1923, but moved to Kansas City in 1969. The Wright & McGill Company has been making its Eagle Claw brand of fishing gear in NE Denver since 1925. The original Frontier Airlines began operations at Denver’s old Stapleton International Airport in 1950; Frontier was reincarnated at DIA in 1994. Scott’s Liquid Gold, Inc., has been making furniture polish in Denver since 1954. Village Inn restaurants began as a single pancake house in Denver in 1958. Big O Tires, LLC, of Centennial opened its first franchise in 1962 in Denver. The Shane Companysold its first diamond jewelry in 1971 in Denver. Johns Manville Corp., a manufacturer of insulation and roofing products, relocated its headquarters to Denver from New York in 1972. CH2M HILL Inc., an engineering and construction firm, relocated from Oregon to the Denver Technological Center in 1980. The Ball Corporation sold its glass business in Indiana in the 1990s and moved to suburban Broomfield; Ball has several operations in greater Denver.
Molson Coors Brewing Company established its U.S. headquarters in Denver in 2005. Its subsidiary and regional wholesale distributor, Coors Distributing Company, is in NW Denver. The Newmont Mining Corporation, the second-largest gold producer in North America and one of the largest in the world, is headquartered in Denver. MapQuest, an online site for maps, directions and business listings, is headquartered in Denver’s LoDo district.
Large Denver-area employers that have headquarters elsewhere include Lockheed Martin Corp., United Airlines, Kroger Co. and Xcel Energy, Inc.
Geography also allows Denver to have a considerable government presence, with many federal agencies based or having offices in the Denver area. Along with federal agencies come many companies based on US defense and space projects, and more jobs are brought to the city by virtue of its being the capital of the state of Colorado. The Denver area is home to the former nuclear weapons plant Rocky Flats, the Denver Federal Center, Byron G. Rogers Federal Building and United States Courthouse, the Denver Mint, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
In 2005, a $310.7 million expansion for the Colorado Convention Center was completed, doubling its size. The hope was the center’s expansion would elevate the city to one of the top 10 cities in the nation for holding a convention.
Denver’s position near the mineral-rich Rocky Mountains encouraged mining and energy companies to spring up in the area. In the early days of the city, gold and silver booms and busts played a large role in the city’s economic success. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the energy crisis in America and resulting high oil prices created an energy boom in Denver captured in the soap opera Dynasty. Denver was built up considerably during this time with the construction of many new downtown skyscrapers. When the price of oil dropped from $34 a barrel in 1981 to $9 a barrel in 1986, the Denver economy also dropped, leaving almost 15,000 oil industry workers in the area unemployed (including former mayor and current governor John Hickenlooper, a former geologist), and the nation’s highest office vacancy rate (30%). The industry has recovered and the region has 700 employed petroleum engineers. Advances in hydraulic fracturing have made the DJ Basin of Colorado into an accessible and lucrative oil play. Energy and mining are still important in Denver’s economy today, with companies such as EnCana, Halliburton, Smith International, Rio Tinto Group, Newmont Mining, Noble Energy, and Anadarko headquartered or having significant operations.
Denver’s west-central geographic location in the Mountain Time Zone (UTC−7) also benefits the telecommunications industry by allowing communication with both North American coasts, South America, Europe, and Asia in the same business day. Denver’s location on the 105th meridian at over one mile (1.6 km) in elevation also enables it to be the largest city in the U.S. to offer a “one-bounce” real-time satellite uplink to six continents in the same business day. Qwest Communications, Dish Network Corporation, Starz-Encore, DIRECTV, and Comcast are a few of the many telecommunications companies with operations in the Denver area. These and other high-tech companies had a boom in Denver in the mid to late 1990s. After a rise in unemployment in the Great Recession, Denver’s unemployment rate recovered and had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation at 2.6% in November 2016. As of December 2016, the unemployment rate for the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield MSA is 2.6%. The Downtown region has seen increased real estate investment with the construction of several new skyscrapers from 2010 onward and major development around Denver Union Station.
Denver has also enjoyed success as a pioneer in the fast-casual restaurant industry, with many popular national chain restaurants founded and based in Denver. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Quiznos, and Smashburger were founded and headquartered in Denver. Qdoba Mexican Grill, Noodles & Company, and Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard originated in Denver, but have moved their headquarters to the suburbs of Wheat Ridge, Broomfield, and Golden, respectively.
In 2015, Denver ranked No. 1 on Forbes’ list of the Best Places for Business and Careers.