Businesses Seek Out 'Culture Of Health' Areas

fromCPR

Businesses looking to relocate are making the health of a state's population part of their decision-making process. One Fortune 500 CEO explains it can save millions in reduced health insurance claims and absenteeism. Colorado's economic development officials are already trying to improve the health and fitness of the next generation of workers in order to stay competitive.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Often when a state is trying to woo companies to relocate, they bring up things like tax breaks for good deals on property. Here's a different kind of message from Colorado: Come here. Our state has people who are really healthy.

Eric Whitney from Colorado Public Radio explains.

ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: Kelly Brough runs the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. And she'll do almost anything to lure a company away from its home state, to re-locate in Colorado.

KELLY BROUGH: We've had a Colorado loves California campaign. We do it on Valentine's Day. The CEOs actually do get Valentines from us. And it's been a really creative, cool way to say to companies, we know you're out there, and we think you may be interested.

WHITNEY: Brough says if Colorado can catch a corporate executive's eye, she's got the numbers to hook them. But she's talking more than just the typical tax break, profit and loss kinds of numbers. Here she is at a recent luncheon for Denver health leaders.

BROUGH: Our obesity rate being the lowest in the nation ranked extremely high for the companies we recently attracted.

WHITNEY: Brough also knows Colorado's low rates of common chronic diseases, and brings them up when she talks to executives about re-locating.

BROUGH: Why would they care about heart disease, cancer, diabetes? They're the really expensive ones.

WHITNEY: For a lot of companies, employees' health-related expenses are the second biggest labor cost after wages. Health costs are one big reason that a Fortune 500 company called DaVita recently moved its corporate headquarters to Denver. Kent Thiry is DaVita's CEO.

KENT THIRY: We were confident that Colorado and Denver had a better chance at creating a differentially healthy city over the next 30 or 40 years, than a number of the other locations.

WHITNEY: Thiry chalks that up in part to a culture in Colorado that has long valued health, fitness and quality of life. Thiry says he wants to live in a place like that, and it's helped him recruit the executives his company needs at its headquarters in Denver. Young, college educated professionals, especially, rank quality of life high in deciding where to work. Thiry is happy to have them.

THIRY: A healthier team actually does better work, and leads a happier life, and so that both the company and the individuals are better off if it's a healthier environment.

WHITNEY: Thiry talks about health in terms of his employees' quality of life, but he knows his company can save millions by having fewer employees out sick, and not having to pay as many of their hospital bills.

Thiry says thinking about workforce health before locating still isn't the norm among business leaders, but he says, more executives are starting to appreciate its importance when deciding where to put jobs.

Labor market analyst Robert Marsh agrees.

ROBERT MARSH: It candidly, right now, is a rare occurrence.

WHITNEY: Marsh works for the commercial real estate giant CBRE. He helps companies find labor pools the same way brokers help them find real estate. He says most executives still remain focused on specific skill sets and levels of education when shopping for a workforce. But knowing people's health in a prospective location, he says, is critical.

MARSH: And that's, you know, I think, just around the corner in terms of being at least something that's going to be critically looked at, more and more, if not become a standard in the overall process of location analysis.

WHITNEY: The Denver Chamber's Kelly Brough is betting that Marsh and DaVita CEO Kent Thiry are right. But she's worried about Colorado losing its edge - it ranks 29th in childhood obesity, and that rate is rising faster than in most other places in the country.

BROUGH: Great, you can deliver a good workforce to me today, but I'm not just going to be there today, I'm going to be there, I hope, and even more successful in 20 years. What's that workforce going to look like?

WHITNEY: Brough proudly says that the business community is all in to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. She's making her own staff more health conscious and urging other business leaders to do the same. And the Chamber is a partner in the states' big collaborate effort to improve childhood nutrition and encourage exercise. She's worried that Colorado, long the leanest state in the nation, is getting fat.

For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Denver.

GREENE: And that story is part of a partnership between NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

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