ARCHIVED  September 1, 1997

A diamond in the rough

Brighton begins to shine with new residential, commercial, industrial growth

BRIGHTON – By all accounts, the economic outlook for this bustling Adams County seat is, well, bright. As Donna Spradling, executive director of the Greater Brighton Economic Development Corp., put it: “We’re a diamond in the rough.” About 1989, Brighton began taking steps to refine its diamondlike qualities in order to attract new business. City leaders created the Greater Brighton Economic Development Corp. and set about building new and upgrading existing public amenities. They built a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis water-treatment plant. They passed a “never-ending” recreation tax and built a $6 million recreation center with the money. They used donations and lottery money to create open spaces and trails. To attract new business construction, they created a unique “one-stop” process to handle building applications, site-plan approvals and permits. Now, eight years later, the city’s efforts seem to be paying off. Economic indicators are reaching record levels, and the “rough diamond” is beginning to look downright brilliant. Sales-tax revenues jumped 45 percent between 1991 and 1996, from $2.85 million to $5.2 million. And, according to City Manager John Bramble, 1997 revenues are continuing to climb, up almost 6 percent from 1996. “And we didn’t add that many businesses in late 1996 and early 1997,” Bramble said. “You’ve got to believe that is conducive to additional growth.” Between 1989 and 1996, 200 net new businesses opened, and 1,290 new jobs were created. Unemployment rates fell to the 4 percent range in 1996. Industrial vacancies dropped from 41 percent in 1990 to 2 percent in 1996. Spradling said that tight industrial space will ease some in about 30 days when two buildings currently under construction will each offer 10,000 square feet for lease. Commercial space doubled between 1990 and 1996, but it was gobbled up as soon as it became available because vacancies dropped only four points during the same time frame, from 6 percent to 2 percent, where it remains today, Spradling said. Single-family home starts soared from 10 in 1991 to 201 in 1996, a 1,900 percent gain and the largest volume for new home starts in Brighton’s history. Today, 25 subdivisions have ongoing construction, and 274 lots are available. Three more subdivisions are awaiting final approval. Perhaps one of the most talked-about developments in the area is Bromley Park, slated to be a 20- to 25-year buildout with 8,100 new housing units. “That’s double the size of our (current) community,” Spradling said. Skeptics might say that this town of 18,800 is merely reaping benefits from the same healthy economic conditions that are blessing a lot of other communities along the Front Range. But local business watchers say other factors are playing a role, too, many of which are unique to Brighton. One is Brighton’s status as a transportation hub. Strategically poised an the outside edge of the six-county Denver metropolitan area, Brighton is only 23 miles north of downtown Denver, 16 miles from Denver International Airport and an hour from the Rocky Mountains. Two highways, U.S. Highway 85 (north/south) and I-76 (east/west) pass through the city, merge south of it and connect with I-25, the state’s major north-south highway, and I-70, the main east-west thoroughfare. I-76 also provides easy access to I-80 in Nebraska. Brighton has rail service from both the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern railroads. But that’s not all. Like icing on the cake, the E-470 beltway, when completed, will traverse southern Brighton, connecting I-25 with Pea Boulevard and Denver International Airport. In other words, it’s easy to get to Brighton from almost anywhere. Such easy accessibility is bringing scores of shoppers to Brighton from several surrounding communities. “We just had a retail market study done, which shows that we have about 18,000 households that shop here. That’s about 35,000 people,” Spradling said. “We have found our market is as far north as Firestone, Frederick and Dacono, and people come here from Commerce City because they prefer to be in a community environment than to be in Denver,” she said. Those kinds of figures interest national retailers. “We are talking with several national retailers that are talking about building their own buildings, and they’re talking about strip centers. There’s been no discussion about a standardized mall to date,” she emphasized. Traditionally, Brighton’s economic foundation has been rooted in agriculture. It still is. Sakata Farms is a large farming and produce operation that has been in Brighton for many years. It employs 250 people year-round, has introduced value-added products and conducts much of its own research. Petrocco Farms also operates here, as well as American Pride Co-op, Brighton Feed and Farm Supply and Kuner-Empson food distributors. “We have a very strong agricultural core and would like to see more ag-related businesses here. We’re looking for businesses that would develop value added agricultural products,” Spradling said. But, “We’re also looking for diversification, from high-tech to manufacturing. We’re talking to some smaller manufacturing firms and some high-tech firms, both startup companies and relocations,” Spradling said. Several nonagricultural companies are among the major private employers. Kmart Distribution Center employs 445 people; Central Products, a manufacturer of tape systems, has 275; and the Wal-Mart and Kmart retail stores together employ 346. Metalwest LLC, a specialty steel service business, is also a major non-ag business. According to President Brad Begin, the company left downtown Denver in 1993 and purchased a 116,000-square-foot facility on U.S. Highway 85 in Brighton to handle its specialized steel-processing and delivery business. Two months ago, the company was purchased by O’Neal Steel of Birmingham, Ala., for an undisclosed amount, but Begin said his company will continue to operate independently of O’Neal and retain existing management. “The purpose of the purchase basically was to blend the two product lines of the two companies and to provide opportunities to grow and expand geographically,” Begin said. Begin said Metalwest, which operates sites at five other locations outside Colorado, “got lucky” when it moved to Brighton. “We moved here primarily because of the plant, but we are extremely bullish on Brighton and the local economy. We’ve started to draw heavily from the local employment force, and we’ve found the people from Brighton have a good work ethic.” Wal-Mart came to Brighton in 1991 after President Sam Walton came through town on his way to the Wal-Mart Distribution center near Loveland. When he saw Brighton had no Wal-Mart retail store (and Kmart did), he ordered one built here, or so the story goes, Spradling said. “The first year in business, they surpassed their own sales expectations,” Spradling said, and it wasn’t long before Kmart opened a newer, larger store. The Greater Brighton Economic Development Corp. began developing plans to attract business when Spradling was hired in 1990. Under her direction, a retail market study defined the city’s market, and a study targeting 25 major employers defined their particular businesses and needs. Subsequently, Spradling set up three committees to address business development issues such as labor needs for existing and new businesses, how to communicate the importance of economic development to the community, how to finance it and land development. “We don’t have a lot of land that is infrastructure-ready, so we look for the high-priority areas to make ready for industrial use so we can increase our chances of attracting someone,” Spradling said.

SPONSORED CONTENT

Care and coverage together for your employees

At Kaiser Permanente, we offer a unique care model. Not only do we provide care and coverage together (i.e. health plans and health care), but we also pioneered value-based care.

Brighton begins to shine with new residential, commercial, industrial growth

BRIGHTON – By all accounts, the economic outlook for this bustling Adams County seat is, well, bright. As Donna Spradling, executive director of the Greater Brighton Economic Development Corp., put it: “We’re a diamond in the rough.” About 1989, Brighton began taking steps to refine its diamondlike qualities in order to attract new business. City leaders created the Greater Brighton Economic Development Corp. and set about building new and upgrading existing public amenities. They built a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis water-treatment plant. They passed a “never-ending” recreation tax and built a $6…

Categories:
Sign up for BizWest Daily Alerts