US News and World Report recently ranked Colorado the #1 Economy in USA. With this everyone is talking about Denver's insane growth. Colorado is poised to grow by 96,000 residents over the next 12 months. What's fueling the growth? Colorado's robust job market has been described as the perfect storm of high tech, health care, education, energy, hospitality, tourism, manufacturing, craft beer, specialty food & cannabis industries. Meanwhile the construction, medical and hospitality sectors are facing significant worker shortages. This article is about the challenges and solutions surrounding our hospitality industry. Though it's Colorado's second largest industry, these boomtown forces create pressures on recruitment , training and worker retention. In one place we found a university in Denver that is providing solutions for employers needing qualified workers but more importantly giving students the skills required to jump careers within the flourishing hospitality niche. Students work in the hospitality industry while taking classes in hotel management, restaurant management, beverage education, culinary practices and more. We visited with MSU Denver faculty member Dr. Michael Wray to discuss the Hospitality Tourism and Events program.
a Taco Team Building activity @ MSU Denver's kitchen lab
MSU Denver's Hospitality Tourism & Events Program
The Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center opened in 2012 alongside the downtown Springhill Suites by Marriott. This joint venture gives MSU Denver students hotel workforce experience beyond classroom theory. Students can apply to work at the Marriott as an employee of Sage Hospitality which is the management company. The program also features shadowing project assignments as part of the coursework. Students work with a full-time employees observing and participating in job tasks such as front desk, maintenance, guest services including housekeeping. The program is a student laboratory where participants receive on the job training enabling graduates to transition seamlessly within Denver’s robust hospitality industry. The structure is an impressive 28,000-sq-ft educational facility and is USGBC LEED Gold certified. The complex provides an experiential learning environment for the program's 600+ students. Included is a banquet kitchen, a sensory analysis laboratory for wine tastings, a cellar management laboratory with expansive wine storage. Sage Hospitality manages the hotel. This top tier management provides real world expertise by reinforcing the classroom theory.
...a Return on Investment MACHINE
Many family, community and political conversations involve the topic of the economy. Though Colorado is currently chugging along at a favorable click we will face some leaner times soon. Everything cycles. We love the MSU Denver model because they put a game plan in front of discussions over economic development. This college experience and the hospitality themed coursework simply places MSU Denver's Hospitality Tourism and Events graduates into great careers which is substantive action prevailing over politicians crying "jobs, jobs, jobs"
MSU Denver is on a short list of preeminent urban institution in America. By charter its' modified open enrollment welcomes students who might not otherwise participate in higher ed. This yields improved diversity and more first generation graduates than the norm. Their first year success program helps bring students below grade level to grade level with emphasis on developing study habits and campus enrichment concepts to increase student achievement. Its tuition is Colorado's best value. (Fort Lewis in Durango has the second lowest tuition priced around $1,100 per year higher) The average MSU Denver student is 26 years of age. This shows that college life is not just a holding pattern for students exiting high school but rather a launching pad for students ready to get serious about entering the specialized and competitive workforce.
Here is the bottom line.
1.The tuition is the lowest in Colorado.
2. Students earn money working in the very field they'll enter.
3. Students obtain highly skilled position in thriving sector of the economy (Hospitality) graduating w/ little debt.
Moving Beyond Theory into Reality
I asked Dr. Wray if students learned culinary arts and the answer was yes but he added an emphatic "We teach restaurant management!" Dr. Wray emphasizes that courses in culinary arts help chefs but their program goes well beyond the chef's job description into the entire spectrum. Restaurant management dissects all skills required to run the entire restaurant operation, budgeting, recruiting, purchasing, maintaining the physical plant, proper food storage, marketing and human resources to name a few.
Dr. Michael Wray discusses some of the brainstorming sessions that gave birth to the current model. This was in the middle of the great recession. The land on the corner of Speer and Auraria Parkway was underutilized. Dr. Wray and his colleague Dr. Chad Gruhl thought that building a hotel would provide the learning environment for hotel management students. It would also generate revenue. There were some enormous fundraising and logistical challenges associated with their dream and funding the dream was another issue. When you discuss college funding it's significant to remember that there has been a monumental 20 year shift away from taxpayer subsidized share for the cost. Colorado in-state students pay about $9,000.00 which is funded 33% by our state's College Opportunity Fund and 67% by tuition. These costs are for the year.
I digress, so What does Football have to do with all of this?
Whether you love or hate it football blitzes its' way past the bake sales into bigtime bank deposits. Think of a football stadium as a gigantic funnel. The fall ritual brings in a fierce fan base of loyal alumni. That is why schools steeped in the pigskin tradition can pass the proverbial hat around raising cash for colleges.
Let's break this down further as it relates specifically to the Metro State University context. There are ‘resident’ universities and ‘commuting’ universities. When students are residents in dormitories and involved in on-campus activities such as fraternities, sororities, student government and athletics they become connected with the college experience while simultaneously forming permanent social bonds and future business networks. When this transfers to alumni giving later in life, urban institutions often have less alumni giving compared to resident institutions where alumni feel connected life-long due to highly engaging activities such as football games, fraternities and other resident life activities. This means it is harder for urban institutions to raise funding to support capital projects so we have to think outside of the box. This led to MSU Denver forming strategic public-private partnerships. Partnerships with Tivoli, Marriott, Sage Hospitality & others.
The Charisma and Charm of Dr. Michael Wray
Dr. Michael Wray is a Professor of Restaurant Management. Wray has created extensive course offerings across all aspects of the culinary and beverage world. His course "Beer and Spirits" has been featured in hundreds of media outlets nationally with guest appearances on CNN, NBC National News, the Paul Harvey Show, Headline news, and most of the local media including the Denver Post, Wine Life Radio and Colorado Public Radio.
Dr. Michael Wray teaches the Beer & Spirits course @ MSU
Dr. Wray also knows how to sell and he was a key figure in taking the overall vision into a plan to get the funding. Remember the recession was in full bloom, very few were building so it was his energy and passion that helped take the sparks from the brainstorm phase and set fire to the current programming in place. It also inspired the foundation to take a faith leap into debt. It wasn't blind faith but pretty close. This gamble paid off because construction costs were lower in the recession and if they were to launch this construction project now, (with today's construction labor shortages,) they would be on the wrong side of the supply- demand curve and would pay dearly, a forecasted 30% to 35% premium thus disrupting the feasibility analysis. Timing was everything but it also took a lot of courage, hard work and the relentless pursuit of those aforementioned strategic partnerships.
P3 - MSU Denver's Public-Private Partnerships
MSU Denver's Aerospace & Engineering building integrates formal education and work experience. It houses a satellite manufacturing facility, a mission operations center and an Orion spacecraft model created by additive manufacturing.
(to be continued)
In our next segment:
CRAFT BEER is KING IN COLORADO
The Tivoli Brewing Company and Beer Operation Program opened in 2015 and was the first full-production brewery on a college campus training students in the art of craft beer. We are going to continue this article in a few weeks and discuss how Metro State is poised to leverage the economic phenomenon of Colorado's craft beer industry and how this play will unfold and develop. This is exhilarating. We're not just talking about beer cups ... we're talking about cups full of cashola.