Eldon James loss demands exploration

For the past few years, Eldon James has been one of Corporate Northern Colorado’s bright lights, a shining testament to all that is possible in our part of the state, an exciting growth story pregnant with potential for even greater things.
Sadly, frustratingly, all of that will soon be gone.

The Loveland-based company, we had been led to believe, was planning to build a new $12-million, 75,000-square-foot facility in Timnath. Instead, it is now headed south, moving to a location at the Stapleton airport redevelopment project in Denver.

The news, appropriately enough, broke on Friday the 13th. It most certainly ruined the weekends of key players in the economic-development game.

Eldon James, in case you haven’t heard of it, makes plastic tubing and fittings used in a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals and auto manufacturing. In all, it makes more than 6,000 products.

It’s not a huge company, with just 36 employees on payroll. But with its clean rooms and growing fortunes, it’s on the cutting edge, a “cool” company deploying some of the intellectual capital so critical in today’s economy. That, of course, helps attract other manufacturers, including those in the life sciences and biotech realms and their well-paying jobs. The Business Report thought so highly of this company that it made it one of its Bravo Entrepreneur award winners this year.

So how we ever let Eldon James slip away is a question that urgently needs to be answered. Its pending departure is a definite black eye and with an economy still in recovery, not something we want to see repeating itself.

The list of rationalizations, explanations and excuses, no doubt, is long. Among them: We didn’t have the rich tax breaks they wanted, or, perhaps, they were in a big rush to get something bigger.

That, in fact, is what the company claimed in revealing its decision.

“The need to ramp-up production has set new priorities for the company, and we’re moving in a direction that will suit our space requirements, as well as our time constraints,” Eldon James President Marcia Coulson said in a news release.

Frankly, it’s staggering that the company couldn’t find the right kind of space here. What about the old Agilent Technologies plant right in its hometown of Loveland? But I won’t fault the company for acting out of self-interest. Coulson obviously gave the pros and cons a cold-eye assessment and went with the strictly unsentimental choice: yank up roots, don’t look back and move to the big city.

Because Eldon James is a private company, few know what really goes on behind its closed doors. But Coulson can clearly be a tough businesswoman. There was much fanfare in Timnath after it landed Eldon James. But pity the poor mayor of little Timnath, Jill Grossman-Belisle, who never even got a phone call from Eldon James after it decided to pull the plug. She had to hear it from someone else.

Anyway, it’s more than just unfortunate to lose Eldon James. This is not the sort of defeat that we can simply shrug off and put behind us.

No, what we’ve got here is an honest-to-goodness, come-to-Jesus opportunity. And, so, in response, what I suggest we need is a big pow-wow, one where the hard questions can be asked in a thorough scrubbing of this episode.

The boards of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp., the Upstate Economic Development Board, the chamber presidents, the mayors and all of the other big chiefs need to lock themselves in a room and figure this one out.

And when they’re done, and perhaps developed some notions about how to reduce the odds of similar future losses, they can tell us what really caused one of our few rising stars to vanish.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or agreenberg@ncbr.com

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