Shots - Health News
9:08 am
Wed April 10, 2013

Companies On The Move Look For Healthy Workers

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 8:04 am

It may cost less to do business in places where there's what some people call a culture of health. And that's put Colorado, which has the lowest rates of adult obesity in the country, on the map for companies looking to relocate or expand.

Kelly Brough is making the most of it. She runs the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and she's creative about luring businesses to relocate to Colorado. She runs a "Colorado loves California" campaign, for instance.

"We do it on Valentine's Day," she says. "The CEOs actually do get valentines from us. And it's been a real creative, cool way to say to companies, 'We know you're out there, and we think you may be interested.' "

Brough says if Colorado can catch executives' attention, she's got the numbers to hook them. And she's talking about more than just the typical tax breaks and labor costs.

"Our obesity rate being the lowest in the nation ranked extremely high for the companies we recently attracted," she said at a luncheon for Denver health leaders.

When Brough meets with businesses, she touts Colorado's low rates of common chronic diseases — diabetes, heart disease and cancer — among the ones that cost companies a lot of money in health insurance claims.

A healthy workforce is one big reason DaVita, a Fortune 500 company that provides dialysis services, moved its corporate headquarters to Denver from Los Angeles. Colorado also offered the company tax breaks.

"We were confident that Colorado and Denver had a better chance at creating a differentially healthy city over the next 30 to 40 years, than a number of other locations," says DaVita CEO Kent Thiry.

Thiry chalks that up in part to a culture in Colorado that has long valued health, fitness and quality of life. He says it's helped him recruit the executives his company needs at its headquarters in Denver, and the young, college-educated professionals he wants to hire.

"A healthier team actually does better work, and leads a happier life. So that both the company and the individuals are better off if it's a healthier environment," he says.

Thiry talks about health in terms of his employees' quality of life, but the bottom line is paramount. He expects DaVita to save money by having fewer employees on sick leave and by having lower health costs.

Labor market analyst Robert Marsh works for the commercial real estate giant CBRE and helps companies find pools of workers the same way brokers help them find real estate. Most executives are still focused on specific skills and education when shopping for a workforce, he says. But the health of a prospective location's population is becoming more critical.

"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," Marsh says.

Even as the Chamber of Commerce's Brough puts the Mile High City at the forefront of that trend, she's worried about Colorado losing its edge. Colorado ranks 29th in the country in childhood obesity, and that rate is rising faster than most other places in the country.

She's making her own staff more conscious health and urging other business leaders to do the same. And the group is a partner in the state's big collaborative effort to improve childhood nutrition and encourage exercise.

This story is part of a partnership between NPR, Colorado Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.