Upstate Colo.: Making good progress in Weld

Unemployment is falling in much of Northern Colorado but remains above 8 percent in Weld County.

The number of people living in poverty in one of the richest agricultural counties in the nation is firmly stuck at 12 percent or so and is above 20 percent in Greeley itself, much higher than in, say, Fort Collins or Larimer County.

Home prices in the Greeley-Evans market have been rising but the median is still about $165,000, considerably less than other areas of Northern Colorado.

Weld, in short, has its share of issues, many of them having been explored in depth on these pages and elsewhere.

But there’s another side to this story, a much more uplifting account of expansion and job-creation and real promise.

Our Molly Armbrister shared some of the details in her story in December (“Upstate Colorado exceeds job goals”) on how Weld’s economic development group is faring. Attendees at the organization’s annual meeting at the Greeley County Club a few days back also heard the good news:

The economic development organization was able to convert a third of its 73 leads in active prospects in 2012, with 10 companies moving in or planning to do so, bringing more than 800 jobs in all.

Among the job-creators: Xerox Commercial Solutions, which added 350 jobs in Greeley; Otterbox, with plans to bring 150 jobs in Frederick; and Anadarko, creating 150 jobs in Platteville.

The organization’s business retention record in 2012 also reflected some real progress:

It said it had “contact” with 31 existing employers, 70 percent of which it helped to one degree or another with their projects and five of which expanded or planned to do so. Among those: Teletech, with plans to add 500 jobs to its insurance customer support center in Greeley and Halliburton, with 300 more jobs in the works at its sand terminal and field office in Fort Lupton and Windsor.

It’s no wonder Eric Berglund, Upstate Colorado CEO and president since mid-year 2012, is sounding so optimistic.

“It’s a whole variety of industries, that’s the nice thing about it,” he told reporters. “It’s everything from administrative office to dairy to oil and gas to various types of manufacturing from metal to electronic devices to film.”

So, yes, all of this is good news. Could the numbers be better? Sure, they always can. But there’s plenty of reason to cheer.

Upstate Colorado also deserves kudos for one other important set of figures: the support it gets nowadays from private industry vs. tax dollars.

Upstate in 2009 created what it calls its Leadership Council —about three-dozen business and community groups that committed to donating $10,000 or more for five years.

In past years, Berglund said, about 80 percent of Upstate’s funding came from public sources and program funding, like grants and enterprise zone money. The remaining 20 percent came from private sources.

Today, the amount of public and program funding has fallen to 40 percent, while 60 percent of Upstate’s funding comes from private investors.

The less reliant that Upstate and any other economic development organization can be on government subsidies, the better.

Support from taxpayers might be fine for a time, but it complicates matters when businesses are counting on groups like Upstate to advocate against regulations or policies that set business interests back.

And that, as we all know, certainly doesn’t go hand-in-hand with the job-creation that Weld County needs.

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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