Economic development reaches higher plateau 2006 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Regional Spirit

On an Oct. 25 plane trip back from Atlanta, the chief execs of Northern Colorado’s two top economic development agencies tallied the results of their business-recruiting trip to the deep Southeast.

Larry Burkhardt, president of Greeley-based Upstate Colorado Economic Development, and David Wolven, interim president of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp., had just made their national debut in the name of their new marketing umbrella, “Premier Colorado.”

Their three-day mission: To jointly promote the region covered by their two organizations at a meeting of companies interested in shopping their plans for business expansions or relocation.

“I think we came away with about six good prospects,” Burkhardt said. “People will be coming out here, one in December, another in February, to take a closer look, and others are interested in coming here.”

The successful premier of Premier Colorado, and the vision of members of both organizations that made it possible, earns it the Bravo! Entrepreneur Regional Spirit Award.

The two groups that adopted Premier Colorado as a marketing moniker have a history that is marked more by competition than collaboration. Upstate Colorado’s predecessor, going by the unwieldy name Greeley-Weld Economic Development Action Partnership, angled for many of the same prospects that it’s counterpart in Larimer County sought.

The competitive history goes way, way back – back to the 1970s when the two counties fought over the Anheuser-Busch brewery that is now a rock-solid employer in Fort Collins.

At that time, three economic development agencies – one each for Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland – were competing for prospects to bring jobs to their respective spheres. The 2001 merger of the Fort Collins and Loveland economic development groups to form the NCEDC established the county line, rather than city boundaries, as the demarcation for competing interests.

The emergence of Premier Colorado, a name that Burkhardt can claim credit for, came in 2005 with the agreement of board members from Upstate Colorado and Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. to contribute jointly to a regional branding campaign.

“I think Premier Colorado is a great marketing tool,´ said Jeff Bedingfield, a Greeley lawyer and Upstate Colorado board member who was among delegates from each group that authorized spending money jointly on the campaign. “It’s a first step in what I hope will be a broader movement toward cooperation.”

The October trip to Georgia could bear fruit that neither organization, separately, could hope to claim. Major food processing companies, for example, latched onto the Premier Colorado label that links major regional distribution networks with agricultural centers in ways few other regions can match.

“We were perceived very positively, I think,” Burkhardt said. “We were able to create the perception in their minds of a unified region.”

Board members of the two organizations that worked on the regional branding campaign that resulted in Premier Colorado said that while the name is worth taking on the road again as an identity for a united Larimer and Weld county region, the two entities would be wise to continue their separate roles.

Realizing that, the two groups have drafted a code of ethics, a one-page document that is intended to prevent one entity from sabotaging the efforts of the other in recruiting employers.

“We each have our good points to sell,” Bedingfield said. “I would hope that these regional communities would be competing. But just because you’re competing doesn’t mean you have to get stupid.”