The Economy of Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is a thriving city located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in north central Colorado. With a population of over 100,000 residents, Boulder’s diverse and robust economy is driven by a combination of high-tech companies, startups, small businesses, healthcare, education, and tourism. Some key aspects of Boulder’s economy include:

Major Industries and Employers


  • Boulder is nicknamed the “Silicon Valley of the Rockies” due to its thriving tech industry. Major tech companies with offices in Boulder include Google, Twitter, IBM, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Amazon.
  • Tech startups are also abundant, with over 300 software companies based in Boulder. Notable startups include Zayo Group (bandwidth infrastructure), LogRhythm (cybersecurity), and Justin’s Nut Butter (food brand acquired by Hormel Foods).
  • The University of Colorado Boulder is a pipeline for tech talent. It’s consistently ranked as one of the top computer science programs in the US.
  • Supporting Boulder’s tech industry is the Boulder Tech Center, a hub for events, networking, and support services. Techstars, a startup accelerator, is also headquartered in Boulder.

Natural and Organic Products

  • With its eco-friendly vibe and emphasis on an active, healthy lifestyle, Boulder has become a hotbed for natural and organic products companies:
    • Celestial Seasonings, maker of herbal teas, has been headquartered in Boulder since 1969.
    • Boulder Brands (acquired by Pinnacle Foods) produces natural/organic brands like EVOL, Udi’s, and Glutino.
    • WhiteWave Foods (acquired by Danone), maker of Silk soy milk and Horizon organic dairy products, started and grew in Boulder.
    • Alfalfa’s Market and Lucky’s Market both started as natural foods grocers in Boulder.

Outdoor Recreation and Cannabis

  • Boulder’s identity as an outdoor mecca, with easy access to hiking, climbing, skiing, and cycling, has fueled the growth of companies like GoPro (action cameras), La Sportiva (rock climbing gear), and Skratch Labs (sports nutrition).
  • Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis has led to dozens of related startups in Boulder like Wana Brands (edibles), Terrapin Care Station (dispensaries), and Jon’s Healing Garden (CBD beauty products). Boulder is home to the nation’s first cannabis research center at the University of Colorado.

Federal Labs

  • Federal labs located in Boulder include:
    • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
  • These labs attract research funding and tech consulting to the region. NOAA and NCAR also provide valuable weather data.

Small Businesses and Entrepreneurship

Boulder has a thriving small business community across many sectors:

  • Retail – The popular Pearl Street Mall downtown, as well as the Twenty-Ninth Street retail district, are home to many independent shops. These include outdoor gear stores, boutiques, art galleries, jewelers, and gift shops. The Boulder County Farmers Market is also a popular retail destination.
  • Restaurants – With nearly 300 restaurants in the city, Boulder is a dining destination. The restaurant scene includes award-winning fine dining at Frasca Food and Wine, farm-to-table restaurants like Black Cat and The Kitchen, plus many family-owned ethnic eateries.
  • Professional Services – Boulder is home to many consulting firms, creative agencies, architects, marketing companies, web developers, and more catering to both local and national clients. Co-working spaces like Galvanize, Make or Break, and Basecamp cater to location-independent entrepreneurs and remote workers.
  • Breweries – Craft beer is big in Boulder. There are over 30 breweries and taprooms in town, including Avery, Boulder Beer, Fate Brewing, Sanitas, and Upslope. Many restaurants also have a strong local craft beer focus.
  • Coffee Shops – Boulder loves its coffee shops. With over 50 to choose from, popular independent coffee houses include Ozo Coffee, Laughing Goat, Boxcar, Ink, and Vic’s. These serve as informal meetup and coworking spaces.

Major Employers

The largest private employers located in Boulder include:

  • IBM – 6,000+ employees
  • Ball Aerospace – 3,500+ employees
  • Qualcomm – 1,000+ employees
  • Google – 1,000+ employees
  • Oracle – 500+ employees
  • Celestial Seasonings – 500+ employees
  • Roche Colorado – 450+ employees

The largest public sector employers are:

  • University of Colorado Boulder – 12,000+ employees
  • Boulder Valley School District – 3,000+ employees
  • City of Boulder – 1,500+ employees
  • Boulder County – 1,500+ employees
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research – 1,000+ employees

Education and Research

Higher education and scientific research are pillars of Boulder’s economy:

  • University of Colorado Boulder – CU Boulder is the flagship public university in Colorado, with over 35,000 students. It’s the largest employer in Boulder and attracts over $400 million annually in research funding. CU Boulder is especially known for engineering, business, law, aerospace, physics, and climate science.
  • Federal Labs – As mentioned earlier, federal labs like NIST, NOAA, and NCAR have major facilities in Boulder supporting government research.
  • Tech Talent Pipeline – Between CU Boulder and other local colleges like Naropa University and Front Range Community College, Boulder has an excellent pipeline of skilled graduates in tech, business, sciences, and other fields that feeds its industries.

Tourism, Conventions and Events

With its natural beauty and wealth of attractions, Boulder is a popular tourism and events destination:

  • Situated at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and near Eldora ski resort, Boulder attracts hikers, climbers, skiers/snowboarders, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
  • The Boulder Creek Path, Pearl Street Mall, Chautauqua Park, Flagstaff Mountain, Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art, and Celestial Seasonings Tour are some of the most popular attractions.
  • The Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau hosts conventions, meetings, and events at venues like the St Julien Hotel and Spa. Popular annual Boulder events driving tourism include:
    • Bolder Boulder 10K Race (Memorial Day)
    • Colorado Shakespeare Festival
    • Boulder Creek Festival
    • Boulder Farmers Market
    • Pearl Street Stampede
    • CU Football Games
  • The City of Boulder benefits from significant transient occupancy taxes (bed taxes) from leisure and business travel, supporting city budgets.

Real Estate and Construction

  • Boulder’s desirability fuels a robust real estate market both for residential and commercial properties. Median home prices exceed $1 million and the median list price for commercial real estate is over $350/sq. ft.
  • The city’s building height restrictions, open space programs, and urban growth boundaries limit new construction, which puts pressure on real estate prices but also helps maintain Boulder’s quality of life.
  • Sustainable “green building” is emphasized by the city’s commercial and residential builders, both for environmental reasons and for marketing to eco-conscious residents.

Business Environment

Boulder enjoys a very business-friendly climate:

  • No corporate or personal city income taxes.
  • Relatively low property taxes and business license fees.
  • Educated workforce and talent pipeline from local colleges.
  • Excellent quality of life, outdoor recreation, mild climate, and natural beauty help attract and retain workers.
  • Network of business incubators and support services like venture capital, shared workspaces, and events/programming to aid entrepreneurs and startups. For example, the Boulder Small Business Development Center, Boulder Startup Week, Boulder Open Coffee Club, and Boulder New Tech Meetup.
  • Active Chamber of Commerce and Economic Council focused on supporting local businesses.

However, there are some challenges:

  • Commercial space is in high demand and expensive. Parking is also limited in many areas like downtown.
  • Labor costs are higher than the national average, especially for skilled tech workers.
  • Highly regulated with extensive and sometimes complex permitting/approval processes for development.
  • Fiercely competitive environment given the concentration of tech companies fighting for talent.

The Boulder Economy by the Numbers

Population: 108,000

Median Household Income: $83,539

Median Home Price: $1,123,800

Unemployment Rate: 2.5% (January 2020)

Largest Industries by Employment:

  • Professional and Technical Services: 19%
  • Education and Health Services: 15%
  • Retail Trade: 11%
  • Accommodations and Food Service: 11%
  • Manufacturing: 9%

Largest Tax Revenue Sources for City Budget:

  • Sales and Use Tax: $45 million
  • Utility Franchise Tax: $16 million
  • Accommodations Tax: $12 million
  • Property Tax: $11 million

Number of Businesses: Over 9,000

This covers some of the major aspects of the Boulder, Colorado economy including industry strengths in technology, natural products, and outdoor recreation, the importance of small businesses and startups, strengths in education and research, a robust tourism industry, a hot real estate market, and an overall favorable environment for business. Boulder’s diverse industry base and skilled workforce should allow it to continue thriving economically for years to come.

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  • From Downtown Boulder: Head northwest on Pearl Street toward 28th Street. Turn left onto 28th Street and drive for 2 miles. Make a right onto Valmont Road and continue for 1 mile. Turn left onto 33rd Street, and 1950 33rd St will be on your left.
  • From Denver International Airport (DEN): Take Pena Boulevard to I-70 W, then merge onto I-25 N. Take exit 217A onto US-36 W toward Boulder. After 20 miles, take Foothills Parkway exit, merge onto Foothills Parkway, and drive 2 miles. Turn right on Valmont Road, then left on 33rd Street. 1950 33rd St will be on your left.
  • From University of Colorado Boulder: Head southeast on University Avenue, which becomes Baseline Road. Turn right onto 30th Street and drive for 1.5 miles. Turn left onto Valmont Road and continue for 1 mile. Finally, turn right onto 33rd Street, and 1950 33rd St will be on your left.