BRIGHTON — Colorado’s Front Range has seen a steady influx of new residents over the past few years, and the city of Brighton is no exception.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, some 33,000 people called the community home in 2010, an increase of nearly 60 percent from just a decade earlier. The latest numbers show that the city has added another 5,000 or so since then.
As the new director of the Brighton Economic Development Corp., Michael Martinez is impressed with those figures, but not surprised.
“It’s unbelievable how fast it’s happening,” he said, “but one of the unique things about Brighton is that we still have so much undeveloped land. We’re really the last big thing in the metro area that’s yet to be developed … so we’re starting to see that now coming to fruition, and even though we’ve grown tremendously I think we’ll grow even more.”
Martinez came to the Brighton EDC from Denver’s Office of Economic Development, where he served on the city’s business development team with an eye toward the technology and healthcare industries. Then in late 2014, he felt it was time for a change. “I was looking at the opportunities in the metro area and Brighton made the most sense because of the amount of growth that was happening here, bur Brighton was still small enough where you could make a difference,” he said. “And in Brighton there’s a true sense of community. I really valued that.”
Hired as assistant director of the Brighton EDC, Martinez was appointed director in April. When it comes to economic development, he said he’s taking a back-to-basics approach.
“I’m talking about really getting good at the fundamentals of economic development, which are business retention, expansion and attraction,” he said. “I think if we apply our programs and principles to those three areas, we’ll really build something.”
For starters, Martinez plans to go after the low-hanging fruit.
“Energy is the largest industry that we’re currently pursuing,” he said. “With Vestas being in our community and being the largest employer here, that has been a tremendous asset for us.”
He’s also looking to attract oil and gas producers from what he calls the “energy corridor,” the area between Brighton and Fort Lupton where companies such as Haliburton, Conoco/Phillips and Baker Hughes do business.
According to Martinez, Brighton’s growth also has attracted the attention of several national retail and restaurant chains, with upwards of a dozen new projects expected in the near future. He said it’s all about location.
“We’re 20 minutes away from DIA, we’re 25 minutes from downtown Denver, so we’re as attractive as it gets in the metro area because of that kind of access.”
Access to the airport is proving beneficial as discussions about “Aerotropolis” gain traction. Described in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s visioning study as “sustainable, efficient, well-connected and globally recognized,” the wide-ranging development to improve the infrastructure around Denver International Airport would involve multiple players and communities in the region.
“Everybody has equal say in terms of how Aerotropolis is being built,” Martinez said. “So Brighton is at the table when it comes to all of the conversations and framework about what it’s going to look like. That’s going to be huge.”
As with many communities, though, expansion brings growing pains. Martinez acknowledged that the city is attempting to appease both those who want to retain Brighton’s agricultural roots, and newer residents who are looking for more amenities.
“We have people here who remember Brighton as it was in 1995, just a small town outside of Denver, and now the metro area is coming to us,” he said. “So we’re still trying to manage the amount of growth that’s happened.”
Ultimately, he said, the goal is to build a better future.
“We’re in it for the long gain,” Martinez said. “We’re not something that’s going to be a flash in the pan.”