By Kayla Zacharias
Dan Powers is a policy assessment, public engagement and economic development guru; Executive Director of CO-LABS; and CO LSEN advisory group member.
Colorado is home to more than 30 federally funded scientific research laboratories, but they haven’t always received the recognition they deserve (from the public or our representatives in Congress). Around 15 years ago, there were conversations in Congress about moving some of these labs out of the state.
Very quickly, the scientific community came together to stop that from happening. The University of Colorado, the state’s Office of Economic Development, the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, research labs, and private companies collectively hired the Leeds School of Business at CU to conduct a study on the economic value of Colorado’s federally funded research institutions. At the time, there were about a dozen of these research labs that contributed roughly $1 billion to the state’s economy each year.
The concern that ensued in response to the potential of labs leaving Colorado contributed to the genesis of CO-LABS, a non-profit organization that works to nurture the ecosystem of federal research laboratories in the state. As Executive Director, Dan Powers is the only full-time staff member, and he works with a board of directors to educate the public, businesses, and government officials about the value of federally-funded research labs in Colorado.
The primary way that CO-LABS does this is through events, said Powers.
“We arrange on-site gatherings at labs where people have a visceral experience with one kind of technology or another. Convening and spotlighting science to the ‘right audiences’ is really important,” he said. “COVID took that all away, so there’s almost a pre-COVID version of what CO-LABS does and what we do now.”
In the age of the pandemic, CO-LABS has shifted to zoom meetings on a specific topic with a somewhat curated audience; most events are open to the public, but Powers is strategic in his efforts to get the right people in the [zoom] room.
“There are focused audiences for any given topic, but we tend to have several dozen people who choose to listen in, and in having layers to our audience with different technologists, academics and entrepreneurs, we’re increasing the awareness that people have of what other groups in the state are doing. That’s similar to what we were doing when we could meet in person,” Powers said. “We want to increase the awareness of all these different nodes of the research web throughout Colorado.”
Although CO-LABS aims to treat all areas of research equally, there are a few themes they tend to focus on more than others: climate change mitigation; cybersecurity and security of our electrical grids; infectious disease; and biosecurity (mainly, security of our food systems). From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fort Collins, all of these topics are being studied by researchers throughout the state. These institutions are doing innovative and impactful work, and it’s Powers’ job to ensure they’re getting the recognition (and funding) they deserve.
CO-LABS hosts highly interesting and informative events and webinars; visit https://www.co-labs.org/blog to learn more. They also provide regular news and updates from Congress, which you can find here: https://www.co-labs.org/congressional-updates.
Thank you, to Dan, not only for serving on the CO LSEN advisory group, but for supporting and nurturing the network of scientific research laboratories in Colorado.