In recent months, the general public has become intrinsically aware of the global impact of public health. Disease knows no borders. It’s crucial that we recognize that the same applies to business.
We live in a global age, and business interests must reflect, and adjust, to this new fact of life.
As early as January, American businesses began to feel the effects of shutdowns in Wuhan and the larger Hubei province in China. Automakers like General Motors, Honda and Nissan shuttered factories, and a variety of businesses from Facebook to Shell began to prepare publicly for a “tough and uncertain” economic environment.
We’ve seen our economy sickened by stalls in supply chains and community shutdowns. In Colorado, businesses like Arrow Electronics reported delays, and locals balked at the impact on Aspen’s real estate market and Front Range tourism. Some might say this is a sign to turn inward and reject global trade.
The COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Colorado in early March. Some of the first cases occurred in mountain resort towns, apparently brought in by international ski tourists.
We will never return to a fully isolated economy, and we shouldn’t try. But free markets and international trade are a lodestone for peace, cooperation and widespread economic prosperity.
As we press forward in our fight to preserve public health, we must continue to strengthen relationships with our international counterparts.
Colorado Business Roundtable, a public policy organization comprised of executives from some of the state’s largest employers, recently convened an online discussion with Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the U.S., Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud.
We were also joined by 10 of Colorado’s most influential women, representing business, government, philanthropy and academia, including Kristen Blessman, president & CEO of Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera; Karen Gerwitz, president of World Trade Center Denver; and Betsy Markey, executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
This virtual conversation was a unique opportunity to touch on policy and business issues that affect not just Colorado, but the world, reminding us that business interests truly are borderless.
Ambassador Reema’s work has focused on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, where they’ve made incredible leaps forward in recent years. Her work with private sector initiatives, and her pivotal role advocating for female empowerment, provided insights into their culture, history and economy.
The conversation certainly showcased our differences, but new friendships and allies were forged through the universal desire for economic opportunity for women.
In Colorado, women are making an impact in every industry, enterprise and workplace roles imaginable. They are CEOs, startup founders, strategists and irreplaceable employees who not only are instrumental in their own organizations’ success; through their daily actions and achievements, they set a precedent of possibilities for the next generation of women in business to build upon.
Access to mentors, a Western appreciation for risk-taking and community support for local businesses make Colorado a top state for female entrepreneurs to have a business.
And the numbers prove it.
Colorado ranks 10th among states where women-owned businesses wield the most “economic clout,” according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, which is commissioned by American Express and is in its ninth year of publication.
The report estimates there are 231,020 women-owned businesses in Colorado, employing 177,332 workers and bringing in roughly $32.8 billion in revenue.
The state is home to three of the nation’s top 10 cities for women to own a business. Startup haven Boulder is the No. 1 spot for female entrepreneurship with the most women-owned businesses. Denver ranks third in the U.S., while Fort Collins claims the No. 10 spot.
In Saudi Arabia currently, women make up more than 40% of entrepreneurs and more than half of those enrolled in Saudi schools and universities. Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms, women can now serve in military positions, drive cars, travel independently, register as ‘heads of households” and have equal authority to register cases of marriage and divorce.
The guardianship system that once placed heavy restrictions on women’s travel, employment and financial decisions has effectively been eliminated.
Through Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has renewed commitments to develop women’s talents, invest in their productive capabilities and enable them to strengthen their future.
While we have many differences in upbringing, culture and history, we learned we have so much in common. We share an international goal to create an environment in which business thrives because profits and purpose go hand in hand.
Customers, employees, suppliers, community members and more are all part of an interconnected system of essential stakeholders that support and reap the benefits of a company’s ability to invest, grow and innovate.
By working together and unapologetically amplifying the voice of business for both men and women, we are creating a thriving economy that works for everyone, in Colorado, and throughout the world.
Debbie Brown is president of the Colorado Business Roundtable.
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