As an economic developer for more than 17 years, I like to refer to myself as a resource manager. The reality is that economic developers don’t create jobs; we create an environment in which jobs can be created. And that isn’t always easy to accomplish. Being an economic developer is a delicate balance of juggling and managing a constant, ever-changing environment.
The plain fact is that economic development simply takes time. Every community has foundational items it must build to create a strong and stable economy in which companies can locate and expand. We also can’t do it alone; it requires ongoing partnerships with local workforce organizations and higher-education institutions to create a desirable and plentiful workforce. Relationships with infrastructure providers are critical as well; knowing who services your community and developing relationships with the providers of your gas, electric and telecommunications is important. We try to develop great relationships with real estate professionals, developers and landowners, too. And the list goes on and on and on.
Even with your foundational items in place, that doesn’t mean companies will flock to your community. The key to economic development boils down to relationship management. Knowing who the right people are that can assist in attracting companies or knowing the right person to refer a company to can also be vital. Identifying the needs of a company is not always easy, either; it’s a complex dance you do to help them recognize their most important needs. I always ask a company to identify their top three needs or priorities. And even though they think they know what their needs are, they can sometimes change into different priorities through conversation and education.
There are some projects in Windsor I am still working on from 2011 and 2013 they are viable projects but moving at a slower pace than perhaps the majority of projects on which I work. Project management is crucial with some companies; unpredictable markets can cause delays in relocations or expansion projects. You have to stay in constant contact and communication with your prospects. It can also be difficult working with some companies because they may not use the right person as their relocation specialist. That person in the company has expert experience in their field, for sure, but may not have the tools, time and resources necessary to focus on building or relocating to a new facility, and that can cause delays as well.
As you may have noticed, Windsor is growing very rapidly, not only in residential growth — with 690 single-family permits this past year — but in commercial growth. We have nine business parks in Windsor and approximately five major retail commercial areas for development. I have been fortunate enough to work with dozens of companies in the past few years that have invested more than $308 million into our community and created almost 2,000 jobs with a total payroll of more than $70 million. They have also built or acquired more than 1.3 million square feet. In addition to all of that activity, Windsor also has five spec buildings in progress.
I am lucky that our town board, town manager and leadership team understand the growth challenges in Windsor and Northern Colorado. They understand that it takes time to create viable business parks and commercial areas for development and also to manage all the relationships necessary to accomplish our economic-development goals. Their forward thinking through our most recent strategic plan update will focus town efforts on key infrastructure improvements. Those improvements include existing road expansions and increased water and sewer systems. The potential for local broadband service will ensure that quality development in Windsor will continue. They want a strong foundation for future growth in Windsor, but most importantly they want to maintain our small-town charm.
Stacy Johnson is the director of economic development for the town of Windsor. For more information on Windsor’s economic growth or plans, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.