GE Johnson Construction Co. is building the 130,000-square-foot Agilent Technologies campus in Frederick. CRB is leading the design and engineering team. Christopher Wood/BizWest

Agilent’s impact: New Frederick plant could lure additional manufacturers to area

FREDERICK — Luring Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) to Frederick was Upstate Colorado Economic Development’s deal of the year in 2016. It was also Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.’s biggest deal of the year. For Frederick town manager Matthew LeCerf, it was something bigger  — like hanging up the biggest sign imaginable.

“It means that Frederick is open for business,” LeCerf said.

Simply put, it may be the biggest piece of economic development in the Carbon Valley since coal. Agilent announced in August 2016 that it would invest $120 million to build a new 130,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Frederick, locating the plant on 20 acres in the Eagle Business Park adjacent to Interstate 25.

Bringing the new Agilent manufacturing space to the area was somewhat based on the fact that the company already has a manufacturing plant in Boulder, but definitely still required a two-way street between the Santa Clara, Calif.-based biopharmaceutical company and local and state economic-development agencies.

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade threw in a $2.4 million job-growth credit, providing that Agilent hires 170 people with an average wage of $77,206. In total, there was an estimated $5 million worth of economic incentives, which included Frederick having to pony up to improve and pave a mile of Tipple Creek Parkway from Silver Birch Boulevard to the Interstate 25 frontage road.

LeCerf said that the road improvements are estimated at $2.8 million, but fortunately the state Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) is providing a 50 percent grant for the project. Access through the frontage road, however, also helps economic development throughout Frederick, especially close to I-25, and the town’s rapidly redeveloping downtown.

In addition, Frederick and Weld County will reimburse 50 percent of the company’s business-personal-property taxes, which includes the incredibly expensive equipment necessary to manufacture the nucleic acids used in producing RNA- and DNA-based drugs. Building permits have also been reduced by 75 percent.

That might seem like a big tab with a town with an annual budget of about $26 million, and only $6 million in its general fund. However, LeCerf said that a pre-deal study estimated that over the average 25-year lifespan of an urban-renewal project, the Agilent deal will probably directly net the town about $25 million.

With construction already initiated, those benefits are probably already being realized, with workers frequenting area restaurants, stores and, yes, bars. The project will be completed in three phases, ultimately bringing between 150 to 200 jobs to the area.

“Once the groundwork is laid, there will be some sort of spinoff” business,” LeCerf said, noting that extending the parkway to access the frontage road also opens the area to business that will cater to Agilent. One of Agilent’s primary business partners is not far across I-25, as European pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca is gradually moving personnel into the 70-acre Amgen campus in Longmont it purchased last year.

“When you look at the impact it will have on a town like Frederick, it’s fantastic,” said Richard Werner, president and CEO of Upstate Colorado, the economic-development agency in Weld County. “When you create something like that, with primary jobs at very good salaries, you’ve also created a jobs in their supply chains, as well as indirect jobs — doctors, dentists, real estate agents …”

Werner said the location had early competition locally, before state and county agencies focused on Frederick. However, he said the competition was steepest between Colorado and three other states, including an Austin, Texas, location.

“It was really just amazing to see the cooperation from the state level to the local level to compete on this deal,” Werner said. “But they really locked it up on the local level. Frederick did a great job.”

LeCerf said Agilent plans on conducting its U.S. Food and Drug Administration testing of the plant in February 2018, at which point staffing will be gradually ramped up. Meanwhile, most everyone in the Carbon Valley area is watching with keen interest as the area has attacked its first large high-tech business.

“It’s going to be great for the community, and we can’t wait for them to get here,” said Julia Davis, executive director of the Carbon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “I know that Upstate Colorado and Frederick worked very hard to get them to come to the area. “But everybody is still wrapping our heads around them coming here.”