Class: Start by defining who and what we are

What should Northern Colorado’s relationship be to Denver? What should our relationship be to Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyo.?

Those were a couple of the more interesting questions posed by Aaron Fodge, a transportation planner with the North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization and a presenter I heard from on the first day of this year’s Leadership Northern Colorado class.

For the next six or so months, I’ll be attending Leadership classes and reporting back to readers on all that I learn and see. The program, a partnership between the Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley chambers of commerce, is meant to bring together individuals from our two counties and introduce them to some of the many organizations, companies and sights and sounds that constitute Northern Colorado.

There are 32 of us in this year’s program, and if the first day is any indication of what’s ahead, there’s a ton to learn.

The first full session took place in mid-January, and the day began at McKee Medical Center in Loveland, where the group heard from Fodge.

In the course of his presentation, Fodge highlighted several of the infrastructure and physical features that make Northern Colorado unique, but also asked a set of questions that got the conversation going.

The responses I heard suggest that in order to create a separate identity, Northern Colorado needs to do more to leverage the area’s assets to position itself in the best possible way.

Of course, this includes some of our most visible and well-known institutions, such as CSU, UNC, the Rocky Mountain Innosphere and others, but the remainder of the day served as a reminder that some of the really interesting things about Northern Colorado are sometimes overlooked or forgotten.

The first tour of the day took us to Art Castings of Colorado, the bronze foundry that decades ago became the root of the arts culture that is so strong in Loveland today.

The business began in 1972 in a 2,500-square-foot building that, over the years, has grown to 25,000 square feet. Clients at the foundry range from local sculptors to film giant Pixar, for which Art Castings was busy forming and assembling dozens of sculptures of Buzz Lightyear, from the “Toy Story” movies, for Pixar to present to 10-year employees.

Inside the foundry, a complex and painstaking multi-step process occurs every day, executed by highly trained professionals. Some of the employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.

It’s loud in there, and the smells are varied and can be unpleasant. In the areas where the welders work, visitors are warned to avert their eyes or risk being blinded by the light. All in all, it is not a place where one might envision spending a few decades.

But the workers there seem to enjoy every step of the process, from the initial wax-pouring phase to the final stage during which color is applied to the bronze and bases are attached to sculptures where needed.

To me, at least, this facility, tucked away in a semi-industrial part of Loveland, is one of the many hidden gems that can be found in Northern Colorado. From Art Castings sprung Loveland’s identity as an arts community, an identity that has led to the amassing of more than $8 million worth of art scattered about the city.

This identity as an arts-centric place touches most of Loveland’s marketing and is also the reason for two sculpture festivals every summer that draw residents and tourists alike into the city.

After our tour of the foundry, the group headed to the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, a federal lab located on CSU’s campus in Fort Collins. There, genetic material for more than 800,000 plant and animal species is kept under lock and key, ready and waiting to re-generate a species in the event of some disaster.

Some samples are kept in cold storage, while others are cryogenically frozen, and all are kept in a vault built to withstand floods, tornadoes and fires.

The lab receives and preserves samples for people and institutions from all over the globe, and is one of just a handful with similar preservation capabilities worldwide.

Because the facility is a federal lab, its existence is more commonly known, but like the foundry, it is one of the lesser-known assets of Northern Colorado, at least compared to other CSU facilities such as the Engines and Energy Conservation Lab.

The center is a testament to the sort of innovation that can be found in Northern Colorado, as well as the amount of trust the federal government and frankly, people the world over, put in the university and the community.

At the end of the day, I felt as if we all took a small step toward helping answer Fodge’s central question. But with five more months to go, I think we’ll all have an even better idea as the program unfolds.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Business Report. She can be reached at 970- 232-3139, at marmbrister@ncbr.com or at twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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