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Tayer: Values, Value: Celebrating Boulder’s Business Character

March 1, 2024

Originally published by BizWest, March 1, 2024. 

The Boulder business community is a modest lot. When we talk of our accomplishments, it’s seemingly in hushed tones, designed to avoid conflict with those who disparage your success — which might mean the attraction of new jobs or investment to town. As if that’s a bad thing.

Well, maybe it was last weekend’s full moon that got me inspired, but forgive me as I howl with pride about the individuals and companies that characterize Boulder’s business success. I reference, specifically, the honorees for this year’s Celebration of Leadership, the Boulder Chamber’s annual awards event — each of them creating value rooted in values.

This year, we will bestow our community’s highest honor, the lifetime achievement award, on Doug Greene. With what started as a humble newsletter, Doug infused business sensibility into a fledgling natural products industry through his founding of New Hope Communications and the annual natural products exposition. His vision helped position Boulder at the center of an industry rooted in the simple goal of eating healthier foods and reducing our environmental footprint, which now accounts for hundreds of billions in global market value.

Despite, and maybe even because of, the success Boulder helped generate, starting and growing a natural foods business may take even more risk and grit today. It is with respect for those qualities that we will honor Meati as our Entrepreneurial Business of the year. Started by two Boulder-based scientists with an environmental mindset, Tyler Huggins and Justin Whiteley set their sights on creating a mushroom-based food product that is transforming our relationship with meat. Meati’s new Mega Ranch is now producing tens of millions of pounds of delicious “cuts” for the market without the environmental impact of traditional meat products.

From the mega and global to small and proudly local, we will be recognizing Marie-Juliette Bird as our Rising Star for her founding of The New Local. A visit to The New Local and its Victorian-era setting immediately immerses shoppers in a quintessential Boulder experience, elevating the creative artistic skills of its “female-identifying and non-binary creators.” In a world of mass-production and faceless creators, The New Local reminds us that there is virtue in having, as Juliett’s team describes it, “a hub of art, beauty and creative commerce for the city while contributing to the local economy.”

Similarly lifting the voices of those who are woefully underrepresented is this year’s Impact Award winner, Dr. Reiland Rabaka. Reiland is the beautifully eloquent champion of a “beloved community,” free of racial prejudices, and founder of the CU Boulder’s Center for African and African American Studies. Reiland’s vision and the center are foundations for confronting Boulder’s demons and deficits as a fully welcoming and inclusive community. These measures touch our hearts, but if you don’t also recognize their economic imperative, then you clearly aren’t following society’s demographic and cultural trajectory.

As our society and economy also grapple with the challenge of homelessness, the Boulder Chamber has joined forces with those who are taking action. In this work, there are a few business leaders who are seizing the opportunity to explore creative and effective solutions. Two such local organizations, Element Properties and the Homeless Shelter, joined forces in a novel collaboration to construct a housing complex that offers 40 permanent supportive units for unsheltered residents with the highest needs. In the words of Homeless Shelter CEO Michael Block, “We are dedicated to this kind of thing because it works.” It’s a collaborative venture that justly earns Element Properties and the Homeless Shelter Innovative Companies of the Year status.

And then there is Neal Lurie, president and CEO of Resource Central, our Business Leader of the Year. Those who followed the rise of Resource Central — like myself, as a board director (but who doesn’t sit on the awards committee) — have watched Neal turn a struggling non-profit into a thriving professionally managed organization worthy of recognition in any industry sector. Along the way, Neal and his Resource Central Team are tackling the environmental challenges that present an existential threat to our economy and way of life in the west. Their water conservation programs, alone, saved 115 million gallons of that precious resource.

So, yes, I will howl about it . . . Boulder’s business leaders are well worthy of our admiration. They’re running successful operations, they’re deploying innovative practices and they’re helping to tackle some of our most critical human and social needs. That’s values and value. Join us on March 13 for the Celebration of Leadership and in my chorus of howling praise.