A small-town girl from Montana, Kelly Brough moved to Denver to get her MBA and to live in the big city. She's spent most of her career in public service—most recently as the chief of staff for Mayor John Hickenlooper—but in October she took over as the CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. Here, Brough talks to 5280 about giving back, the differences between her jobs, and climbing out of the recession.
Montana was a wonderful place to grow up, but it takes a long time to find a job that you want. Colorado felt not too far from home, but to me Denver was a big city.
The great thing about Denver is that people come here for school or their first job, and they're so embraced by the community and the state that they stay.
Colorado's so accessible. There are no ivory towers here. Part of it is not being snooty, but it's also our history—you weren't going to survive in the West without a community. We needed each other. I think that has always stayed with us.
While I was growing up, my family received assistance when my dad had lost his job. When I got an offer from the city after grad school, it brought me back to that part of my youth, and I wanted the chance to give back.
I ran Susan Casey's campaign against [Hickenlooper] back in 2003. I was an unlikely choice to come work for him, but it's a huge statement about him and Colorado in general that I got the job. People out here only want to have someone who can do the work.
My days as the mayor's chief of staff were spent trying to solve problems by bringing together groups with different points of view and trying to find a compromise. I think I'll be doing the same thing at the Chamber.
Someone once told me that I tend to see problems "sideways." I guess I see some things in a different light and ask questions that most people might not ask.
Given the time that we're in, there's no more important job than supporting our business community. Right now, I want to ensure from a public-policy standpoint that we're doing everything we can to ensure that business grows in Colorado and that we grow as a vibrant economy.
Colorado is in a position that's pretty attractive—we don't have a high level of unemployment, and though the housing market is tough, it's not as bad as elsewhere. We're well positioned for business to succeed coming out of the recession.
We learned a good lesson in the 1980s, when our economy was so dependent on oil and it busted. The diversification of industries that came after that has really helped us.
When you're in a recession, 25 years away feels so far out. I'm just focused on the short-term challenges: the economy and jobs.
I think there's a great opportunity in the energy economy. We're well positioned, not just in the country, but also internationally, as the center of energy and environmental businesses.
I don't have a list of five things I'm going to change at the Chamber. We already have a strong foundation, and I want to build off it.
Every city has to cooperate with the regional population— and public and private need to cooperate, too.
The difference between the mayor's office and the Chamber? Now, when it snows, I won't have to worry about the city trying to clear the snow. At the Chamber, when it snows, it'll be like, "The ski industry is going to do well now!"