After a successful and eclectic career in law, restaurants, politics, and the Navy, 2020 brought CU Denver alum Pat Meyers (’87) back into public service once again as part of Colorado’s COVID Innovation Response Team. As 2021 ushered in a new set of challenges, in April, Meyers accepted the position of Colorado’s Chief Economic Recovery Officer and the Executive Director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT).
Considering CU Denver’s own strategic goal of an innovative future, Meyers was the perfect person to offer perspective on what’s in store for Denver and the state. CU Denver News sat down with Meyers to learn more about his new role, how his CU Denver education prepared him for leadership positions, and how the university continues to support the state’s workforce development.
What is your top priority as Colorado’s Chief Economic Recovery Officer?
The Recovery Office has multiple things that it’s doing. First, it’s working with the governor and the Legislature to determine how to spend the American Rescue Plan Act funding, half of which was appropriated for this fiscal year and half is meant to be spent in the next fiscal year.
The other thing that we’re doing is making sure that the money is spent in accordance with our budget and that it’s spent wisely. It’s one-time money, so our goal is to make sure that it’s been spent on projects that are as transformative as possible for Colorado.
We also want to make sure that we have measurements in place so that we can see whether it’s working or not. If it’s not working, then we will look at changes to the programs to better utilize the funds.
From working on Colorado’s COVID Innovation Response Team (IRT) to leading OEDIT, how has your work shifted in the past two years?
Well, it’s two very different things. The IRT and the COVID work that we did was really centered around medical supplies, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and all of the other items in the supply chain that just froze when it became apparent how impactful COVID was going to be.
The role I’m in now is much more economic-focused, both on the development side and the recovery side. OEDIT has been around for a long time, long before COVID. What we’re doing is in part responding to the impacts of COVID on the state, but it’s also the economic development that we’ve been doing for years.
Economically, what do you envision for the state once the pandemic is finished?
We have a mismatch, both in the state and nationally; we have a lot of unemployed people, and we also have a lot of open jobs. I think what we’re going to find is that it is largely a skills mismatch, that we have a labor force that does not have the right skill set, or is not in the right geography to fill the open jobs. There are over 10 million open jobs in the U.S. currently.
It’s going to take a lot of agencies and non-profits to work on that skills mismatch. It’s going to be a combination of higher education, skills-based training, apprenticeships, and regional workforce training. It’s going to require a lot of people looking at this issue and trying to figure out how to solve it.
What role do higher education institutions like CU Denver serve in boosting the state’s workforce development and economic recovery?
I think CU Denver plays an incredibly important role in the state, and certainly in the Denver metropolitan area. As we drill down on that skills mismatch, we’re going to find greater need for four-year degrees, and also certificate needs as well as community college needs. There are industry needs that are not being filled right now, and we need to figure out how to educate our unemployed folks.
In Colorado, the labor force participation rate is higher than it is nationally, so our unemployment rate is a bit higher than the national rate as well. During the pandemic, we’ve seen a large number of people drop out of the labor force, a combination of very high retirements and, in particular, women who’ve disproportionately dropped out of the labor force due to factors like the lack of childcare. There are fewer people in the labor force now, and that’s not a good thing.
We need to have more people in labor force, and make sure that then they’re employed. We need to make sure we have an adequate labor force and make sure that the people in it are getting jobs.
How did your undergraduate studies at CU Denver help prepare you for your career?
I think I got a very good grounding—I was a sociology major, and CU Denver also gave me a good basis in economics. Back then, CU Denver was practically just a single building, but it had really good professors and a very interesting student body. They were older, many were working, and it was very diverse. It was a very good place to get to get an undergraduate degree.
How is Denver unique in cultivating entrepreneurship and innovation?
First and foremost, I think we have a pretty talented workforce. Denver—and Colorado, too—is a place where people want to live. I started full-time in the in the consumer space in 1997, and we never had a hard time hiring people. Part of the attraction for out-of-state applicants back then was to move to Colorado, and it’s only gotten better.
Wherever you have people who want to succeed with an idea, a lot of times they manage to do just that.