Fort Collins looks ahead to nurture area’s economic health

The city of Fort Collins has a strategy when it comes to economic development: We start by calling it “economic health” as a way to promote a healthy, sustainable economy reflecting community values. When it comes to supporting the workforce and employers, the objective for the city is to support overall long-term vitality in the community that emphasizes the triple-bottom-line focus rather than short-term or individualized gain.

The guidance for the city’s Economic Health Office comes from the Fort Collins Strategic Plan, which was just updated in 2016. Four key objectives are tied to the “Economic Health” strategic outcome in that plan:

• Improve effectiveness of economic health initiatives through collaboration with regional partners;

• Enhance employment opportunities through business retention, expansion, incubation and attraction;

• Support workforce development and provide community amenities that support citizens and employers within the city; and

• Provide transparent, predictable and efficient processes for citizens and businesses interacting with the city.

In the Economic Health Office, the Economic Health Strategic Plan reiterates those objectives by focusing on five key areas: Community Prosperity, Grown Our Own, Place Matters, The Climate Economy and Think Regionally. Our aim is to be in a supporting role, ensuring that community infrastructure is in place to assist residents with finding employment at all wage levels and to help businesses get started and stay or expand in the community.

As part of those goals, the city’s Economic Health Office is a key player in building sector partnerships — an industry-led effort to define common opportunities and challenges, and connect businesses with workforce, education and economic-development partners to create solutions. More specifically, the city organization has assisted with the NoCo Health Sector and the NoCo Manufacturing Partnership — two highly successful, regional industry partnerships that have grown out of industry demand and willingness to collaborate.

By supporting these industry clusters and partnerships, we are fostering collaboration among academia such as Colorado State University and Front Range Community College, the private sector, the public sector and nonprofit organizations to promote an entrepreneurial culture. Between 2014 and 2016, the city, through its Cluster Funding Allocation, has provided a total of $555,000 to industry clusters in Fort Collins in the following areas: Creative Sector, Clean Energy, Bioscience, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Water Tech, Manufacturing Sector, Local Food and Health Sector. But we cannot do this alone; demand continues to grow with more than $1.3 million in requests over that time period. The funds are intended to assist clusters and regional sectors that advance the economic vitality of our community.

This spring, the city participated in the NoCo Manufacturing Partnership manufacturing trade summit, NOCOM, at The Ranch in Loveland. The trade show is held annually by manufacturers for manufacturers with an estimated 800 attendees. Fort Collins was a sponsor of the Women in Manufacturing luncheon at that event, which brought together women in manufacturing and students from Poudre and Thompson school districts to network with about 75 attendees.

In 2014, our office also completed a labor force study for Larimer County that identified the labor market, the drivers for the demand, occupational strengths and education and training landscape. The city currently is working collaboratively with the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Loveland, Loveland Chamber of Commerce, Larimer County, Northern Colorado Economic Alliance and United Way of Larimer County on Talent 2.0, an update to the labor force study completed in 2014. Talent 2.0 will not only update the information from 2014  but will provide an inventory of current programs and activities around workforce development, best practices and opportunities and gaps. From this, we will develop an action plan on implementation and performance metrics to track progress and impact.

In addition to working externally with partners, the Economic Health Office also works internally to integrate economic health initiatives and to help business partners with navigation through the municipal organization. Our staff is available to assist, or please feel free to reach out to me at jbirks@fcgov.com.

Josh Birks is the director of the Economic Health Office for the city of Fort Collins.

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