That’s essentially what we were told a few days back when the bombshell exploded in Loveland.
I’m referring, of course, to the news that the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology was walking away from the effort to revitalize the old Agilent Technologies plant. CAMT’s plans were “not aligned” with the plant owner’s vision, the organization said.
CAMT wasn’t doing this alone. Its partner in helping companies commercialize promising technologies is that little space and research agency known as NASA.
Oh. My. Goodness.
We were told that stepping into the void is a Longmont-based consulting firm, DA2, headed by David Lung, who for $10,000 a month in taxpayer dollars will try to leverage his own NASA contacts to, among other duties, lure companies to what is now being called the Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology.
The owner of the old plant, Kentucky-based Cumberland & Western Resources, assured us all that NASA’s role in the project would come “in a more focused, more robust fashion than ever before.”
Details, however, were scant, as they have been ever since Cumberland & Western stepped into the picture last year to acquire the campus.
The company has no website and its owner, Brad Kelley, the former owner of a discount tobacco company, has declined to be interviewed.
Earlier this year, his representative in our region, Bill Murphree, not only turned down the Business Report’s request for an interview with Kelley, but he strongly suggested that writing about Kelley might have negative consequences for Cumberland & Western’s interest in doing business in Northern Colorado. “Brad likes to be very private,” Murphree told us in a phone interview in January. “He’s just the source of capital for the project, he’s not really involved in it. … The less you write about Brad, the more supportive we are going to be of the Northern Colorado area.”
Oh. My. Goodness.
Loveland’s economic development chief, Betsey Hale, downplayed the significance of the CAMT withdrawal, saying it centered on a disagreement over how many tenants should fill the plant.
Hale said smaller tenants would have ended up paying too much to lease space under CAMT’s vision of filling the plant with “hundreds of companies.” The plant, she explained, would have to be reconfigured to accommodate so many companies. Those changes would have driven up the cost of rehabbing the plant and driven up rents so that few companies would have been able to afford to move in.
OK. That sounds plausible, I guess. But it sure begs the question of why we didn’t hear that from the very beginning. Surely, Cumberland & Western would have reached that conclusion during its due diligence, so why allow city officials to spend month after month talking up CAMT and its tech-transfer deal with NASA and how that agreement would give the old plant the leg up?
Anyway, it appears Cumberland & Western prefers fewer, larger, anchor-type tenants. That’s fine, too, I guess, so long as it can find them. But it’s considerably more complicated and costly for larger companies to uproot and relocate. A lot of healthy companies wouldn’t bother, so what’s left? Ailing corporations looking to cut costs?
Like Cumberland & Western, Loveland also made sure to stress that NASA has said it looked forward to working with the city in its pursuit of “economic vitality.”
As promising as that sounds, there’s nothing special about it, because NASA has spent years doing just that with communities across the country.
It’s critical to note that CAMT’s withdrawal from Loveland doesn’t mean it has given up on the notion of setting up an aerospace and tech park somewhere in Colorado. It’s now looking for a location closer to the Denver-Boulder region.
Once those doors open, you have to wonder which location the most promising tenants might prefer.
Put yourself in a hypothetical tenant’s shoes. Would you pick Loveland, whose consultant has a contract that expires at the end of the year? Or might you prefer to hitch your company’s fortunes to an operation that has CAMT’s stamp of approval, along with a formal contract with NASA to do tech-transfer work together?
Oh. My. Goodness.
Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.