Bringing Research and Business Together for Colorado


NREL helped spark the market for hybrid cars in the US; analyzing benchmarks for the Toyota Prius, testing and validating the battery pack performance.



Economic Impact

The economic impact of the state’s federally funded laboratories in 2012 was $2.3 billion and directly employed nearly 8,000 people in 2012..  CO-LABS sponsored the survey, Colorado Economic Impact Study: Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Federally Funded Research Facilities in Colorado, FY 2011 - 2013. Full 2013 Report here - scroll down for earlier year reports.  (NOTE: the 2015 update to the study is being finalized for release in 2016)

The $2.3 billion impact is a 54% increase over the $1.5 billion impact reported in the 2011 economic impact study.  

“Colorado's federal labs help foster the innovation that fuels our state and the nation's economy," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said. "Leveraging the labs' research and technology with the state's innovative entrepreneurial spirit creates a strong foundation for Colorado's business ecosytem. We are proud of the extraordinary advancements coming from the research in Colorado and will continue to support our federal laboratories and their world-class workforce."

The report, which analyzes data from a majority of Colorado’s 30 federally funded laboratories, supports statistical data from national surveys on the importance of funding innovation in the United States. One of the most recent examples: the National Science Foundation highlights how the U.S. remains the single-largest R&D performing country, with a total of nearly $414 billion expended in 2011. Furthermore, according to a report by the Science Foundation Arizona these public investments in R&D are leveraged by private industry: every dollar of public R&D investment induces $4 of private R&D investment, which results in a significantly larger positive economic impact.

And while the nation’s federal laboratory system has grown to comprise more than 700 laboratories with a combined federal research and development budget of over $100 billion, Colorado is the first and only state to report on the combined economic impact of its federally funded laboratories.

“In 2008, when we first released our study, it was somewhat unchartered territory for a state to look at federally funded labs as a collective local resource,” said Bill Farland, chair of CO-LABS and vice president for research at Colorado State University. “What we found was more than a dollar value. We learned that there’s a tremendous synergy between the laboratories, businesses and the community. This has allowed the laboratories to become important parts of our communities and has allowed for a variety of companies to spin out from our federal labs. In addition, we learned that people want to live here, making it easier for the labs to recruit top-notch talent to the state.”

According to the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer, Colorado ranks fourth in terms of the number of laboratories and seventh for federal laboratories per capita. In addition, in 2009, Colorado ranked second in the nation for funding from NASA, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Interior, and was in the top 5 for National Science Foundation funding.

Farland noted that even though other states have larger federal facilities that account for more in economic output, what sets Colorado apart is the number and diversity of its federally funded  laboratories.

“Thanks in part to having the nation’s third-most highly educated population, Colorado has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal research facilities in the nation,” Farland said. “The range of research happening here is quite diverse with groundbreaking studies on climate change, renewable energy, physical sciences, space, wildlife, agriculture, and endemic and epidemic diseases.”

Forecasting Wildfire Behavior
While the state’s research expertise varies widely, one area that is of particular national interest is how the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is looking to understand and predict wildfire growth and dynamics.

Take for instance the recent wildfire near Yosemite and how it threatened San Francisco’s water and power supply. Using an NCAR-developed program which pairs a model that forecasts weather with a model that simulates wildfire behavior, emergency managers in the future may be able to more accurately anticipate the movement of fires across complex terrain.
“These types of simulations are helping us to better understand how different types of weather conditions and landscapes influence the growth and direction of fires,” says NCAR scientist Janice Coen. “This can be important information to help firefighters combat blazes more effectively while staying out of harm’s way.”
Coen’s program is just one of the many examples of research coming out of Colorado that is helping to solve global issues.

How Federal Laboratories Spur Innovation
In addition to helping the public understand how science can improve daily lives, federal laboratories play an increasingly important role nationally in promoting regional growth by partnering with entrepreneurs to create new jobs, products, and companies. Colorado’s federal research facilities are leading this charge.
Several of the state’s laboratories including JILA, NCAR, and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) work collaboratively with industry researchers and support startup companies by offering access to their scientists and facilities.  
For example, through its annual Industry Growth Forums, NREL has provided an opportunity for 30 cleantech startup companies to present their business cases to an expert panel of investors and energy executives. To date, participating companies have raised more than $4 billion in growth financing.

For entrepreneurs like Randy Gee, chief technology officer of SkyFuel, a Colorado company that develops advanced solar energy equipment for use at the utility scale, the opportunity to partner with NREL has been important to SkyFuel’s success.
“SkyFuel’s proximity to NREL is important to our ongoing technology program, especially since NREL’s specialized test and measurement equipment has helped accelerate our path to product commercialization,” said Gee. “Without a doubt, we are strong believers in collaborations between the private sector and the national laboratories.”
Gee added that developing new technologies in Colorado is a natural fit for a variety of reasons: the region is home to one of four satellite offices for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, has consistently ranked as one of the top location for startups, and has maintained top-five rankings for venture capital as a percent of state GDP.


2013 Economic Impact Report PDF 
2011 Economic Impact Report PDF »
2008 Economic Impact Report PDF »

Why Colorado? »