Good economic signs aplenty, CEOs say

BOULDER – The hope and hype about the area’s strengthening economy appears to be justified, as business leaders are optimistic heading into 2013 following strong performances in 2012, according to a panel at the Boulder County Business Report’s CEO Roundtable on Wednesday.

Local companies are expanding and looking to invest, banks are lending again and several economic indicators show the area economy has made up the ground lost since the 2008 recession.

“The short version is, the state’s doing better than the nation is, Boulder’s doing better than the state is, and at this point, in terms of the economic cycle of job recovery, Boulder is back to where it was in terms of peak employment prior to the recession,´ said economist Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Business Research Division at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

Wobbekind pointed to technology as the driving force of the recovery, but a number of industries are showing gains.

“The jobs are very broad-based in this recovery, in every sector except information,” Wobbekind said. “A lot of the indicators are extremely positive.”

Banks have adjusted to new regulations, have money to lend and are able to work with a greater range of clients, said Patrick O’Brien, Guaranty Bank and Trust Co.’s market president.

“That’s all behind us now,” O’Brien said. “I can say that fairly comfortably as we look back at 2012, which was an excellent year for community banks.”

Retail sales in the area also have solidified, according to Kim Campbell, an executive with Macerich Co. (NYSE: MAC), the company that owns the Twenty Ninth Street and FlatIron Crossing retail centers. “On a sales-per-square-foot basis, our sales at both properties are at an all-time high,” Campbell said.

Trends in residential and commercial real estate also give hope.

Home prices are rising, and the biggest current problem is a lack of inventory, said Lew Kingdom, Wright Kingdom Real Estate’s managing broker.

In downtown Boulder, rents are high enough that new redevelopment projects are economically viable, said Bill Reynolds, president of W.W. Reynolds Cos. in Boulder.

Tenant interest is strong for Class A office space downtown despite increasing rents, said Angela Topel, senior broker for Gibbons-White Inc. The brokerage represents the owners of the 11th and Pearl redevelopment project, and the high rents it will command when it opens in late 2015 are not proving to be a deterrent.

“We are asking for high rates, and people are actively pursuing it,” Topel said.

A survey of employers conducted by the city of Boulder with the help of the Boulder Economic Council found that about two-thirds of companies in Boulder are planning to expand in the very near term, said Clif Harald, executive director of the BEC.

Editor’s note: An expanded version of this report will appear the Boulder County Business Report’s Feb. 1 print edition. The roundtable is sponsored by the law firm Berg, Hill, Greenleaf and Ruscitti LLP and the accounting firm of EKS&H. Wednesday’s roundtable was held at the offices of Berg, Hill, Greenleaf and Ruscitti LLP.


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