As the new director of economic development in Colorado, Dwayne Romero doesn’t expect to wave a magic wand and instantly create jobs.
Romero likes the symbolism, though, of working what he calls some “new magic” through creativity and collaboration in the face of limited resources. That’s why he’s brought a magic wand he borrowed from his 5-year-old daughter to a series of meetings held across the state as part of a grassroots effort to draft an economic development plan.
Given budget shortfalls that limit the ability of Colorado to offer big cash and tax incentives, the usual inducements aren’t available, Romero said. “We don’t have those tools right now as a state.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Romero executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade in January.
Romero brings to the job nearly two decades of experience in real estate development and investment, most recently as president of Related Snowmass in Snowmass Village. The firm is a division of Related Cos., an international real estate and investment firm headquartered in New York.
“Dwayne Romero knows how to create jobs and lead organizations,” Hickenlooper said. “He helped stabilize and build successful businesses in the Colorado mountains, most recently in Snowmass Village. Dwayne has the necessary leadership training and business management experiences to promote economic development in Colorado and beyond its borders.”
Romero managed a portfolio of commercial and lodging properties in Snowmass Village and led his firm’s hospitality and property management divisions with oversight of more than 250 condominiums and a dozen homeowner associations.
He previously worked as the managing partner and co-founder of Steeplechase Development Partners, a resort development and management company that managed mixed-use projects in Aspen. Before that, he worked as development manager and director of operations for Hines in the Rocky Mountain region, leading and managing resort and mixed-use projects in Colorado and Montana.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Romero served in the Army for seven years as a planning and operations officer with the Corps of Engineers. He earned a bronze star for leadership valor during combat in the Gulf War. He also holds a master’s in business administration degree from Harvard Business School.
In a brief interview with the Business Times, Romero compared his short time in his latest position to “drinking from a fire hose.” He’s been involved in an initiative to draft economic development plans on a county-by-county basis and then integrate those plans into regional plans and, ultimately, a state plan.
In Mesa County, business owners and managers participated in an online survey and two-hour planning to come up with ideas for an economic development plan.
Among the dozens of ideas to come out of the process was promoting a research and development hub involving conventional and renewable energy sources as well as efforts to develop and promote a community brand for the Grand Valley.
Romero said it’s important in drafting economic development plans to listen to business owners and managers about best practices and what’s working and not working. In that way, state officials become “active listeners,” he said.
Rather than “overpower” local plans, statewide economic development efforts should build on those efforts, he added.
Romero said one of the things business owners and managers have told him isn’t working is the level of regulation and bureaucracy involved with dealing with state agencies. “There’s a lot of red tape,” he said.
The Hickenlooper administration has initiated an effort to streamline and consolidate some of the functions of state agencies to reduce inefficiencies and paperwork, he said.
Ultimately, creating jobs in Colorado will require a different approach involving creative and collaborative efforts in the face of limited resources, Romero said — efforts that will involve much more than waving a magic wand.