Woodward defection would mean millions lost

What would Fort Collins look like if Woodward Inc. decided to move its headquarters to a new city?

It’s a question few in the business community want to consider, for good reason: The company contributed some $130 million in payroll and benefits to its 1,300 Northern Colorado employees in 2011.

It also created slightly more than 1,700 indirect jobs, adding $75 million more in payroll dollars in the regional economy.

According to a fiscal analysis performed by CSU economist Martin Shields, the manufacturer of control-systems technology for the energy and aerospace industries contributed more than $1.6 million in total tax revenues to Larimer County in 2011.

Moreover, Shields estimated that Northern Colorado expenditures by the company’s employees amounted to $48 million in 2011, buying automobiles, groceries, clothing and so on.

The numbers are impressive, and are alone reason enough for economic development officials to want to keep the company in Northern Colorado. Woodward is pondering an expansion and relocation of its headquarters at the moment, and while Fort Collins appears to be the frontrunner, company officials have said that three states and more than 20 sites were in the running at one point.

“Economically, the community benefits from the direct investments by the company and larger salaries paid to the top leadership team,” said David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

Beyond that, Woodward’s presence attracts other large companies that support the business done at 1000 Drake Road, Woodward’s headquarters in Fort Collins, May said. The community also benefits from Woodward’s corporate travel activity and shipping in and out of the market.

Woodward is a “primary” employer, meaning that almost none of its products are sold within the market. Economic development professionals often consider this kind of company the most desirable, because all of the company’s profits come from other areas, and in Woodward’s case, other states and countries.

“Woodward is the type of primary employer any community would be interested in having or recruiting,” said Walt Elish, CEO of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. “Not only do they provide a considerable economic impact for the community and region, they are also excellent corporate citizens.”

May echoed this sentiment, noting that community support is common among companies like Woodward.

“This is the location of their corporate headquarters. They live here, too, and want good schools and a clean environment and a strong social fabric,” May said. “It’s a combination of giving back to the place they live in, and in turn a great community helps them attract and keep talent.”

Woodward’s potential expansion plans have demonstrated its commitment to good corporate citizenry, including taking the environment into consideration.

In addition to re-grading the Link-N-Greens property, for which Woodward has submitted plans to the City of Fort Collins, the company has been in talks with local river advocacy group Save the Poudre and the city’s Natural Resources department to not only protect the Poudre, but to restore some aspects of its natural state that were removed during the development of the golf course now on the property.

The company has also endowed chairs at CSU, founded the clean-tech program at Front Range Community College and has supported CSU’s Engines and Energy Conversion Lab.

A third reason for wanting to keep Woodward, according to May, is the company’s contribution to Northern Colorado’s community image.

“Who isn’t proud that we’re home of Woodward?” May asked. “It’s great that we’re that brainy town that can support Woodward, Hewlett-Packard, Intel … and Avago. It makes the community proud and it is part of the image we like to project to the outside world.”

Following Woodward’s submittal of its plans — including more than 900,000 square feet of redevelopment on the 101-acre Link-N-Greens property — it seems unlikely that Woodward will pack up and leave. But at this stage in the game, nothing is final.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a company expressed significant interest in a new Northern Colorado location only to switch direction.

Take, for example, Eldon James, formerly of Loveland, a plastic tubing company that spent two years searching for the right place to build a new headquarters. The company even announced the construction of a $12 million, 75,000-square-foot building in Timnath.

The company pulled the plug on the project at the 11th hour, and relocated to Stapleton instead.

Eldon James was a much smaller company, employing only 35, but the relocation left many economic development officials scratching their heads, wondering what more they could have done to keep the home-grown company here.

It was an incident no one would like to see repeated with Woodward.

“Communities dream about having companies of this caliber,” May said. “There’s a huge downside if we lose them. Economically, there would be a big impact, and the blow to our community reputation would be even bigger. Imagine what would happen to the community’s reputation if we lost a company of this stature.”

The project that Woodward has dreamt up is massive. Not only does it include a phased-in headquarters, but it also plans for eventual mixed-use inhabited by other companies. Restaurants, a bank and still-to-be determined commercial uses are all sketched out in the plans.

“From a Fort Collins perspective, this is a once-in-a-generation — or longer — legacy project for a city of our size,” May said. “Nationally, there are only a few projects like this each year. This expansion is the gift that keeps on giving because they are likely to expand and add jobs in the years ahead.”

That, at least, is the hope.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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