Economy & Economic Development  July 16, 2010

New icons for Northern Colorado

Lots of things happened in 2005. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States. Saddam Hussein went on trial in Iraq.

And in Northern Colorado, the Little Business Newspaper that Could celebrated its 10th anniversary.

To mark the momentous occasion, in January the Northern Colorado Business Report debuted a new design, its first major makeover since 1995. It looked a lot like the current newspaper – though a little wider, a little taller, a little less colorful – and had been months in the making.

The actual 10th anniversary issue, published at the end of October, featured 40 regional icons, “people, places and things that shape the region’s identity.” They ranged from beer and cinnamon rolls – not both for breakfast, please – to railroads and Rocky Mountain National Park. Joe Tennessen, Pat Stryker, Tom Sutherland, Sonny Lubick and W.D. Farr shared billing with KUNC, Centerra, the Stanley Hotel, the Greeley Stampede and Bruce’s Bar.

Who made the cut and who didn’t was a discussion itself that extended over many months. But some things that just scream “Northern Colorado” today weren’t on the radar back then.

Balloon Boy

Forget trying to tell out-of-towners about Larimer and Weld counties, north of Denver, south of Cheyenne. NCBR’s coverage area can be described succinctly in two words: Balloon Boy. Richard Heeney thought launching a hot-air flying-saucer hoax from his Fort Collins backyard last year would get the attention of the Hollywood powers-that-be who would then give him a reality-TV series. When he floated the possibility that his 5-year-old was aboard the runaway balloon, he certainly got attention, and not just from the news-choppers. The FAA became involved when the deflating Mylar mushroom wobbled dangerously close to Denver International Airport airspace; local law enforcement took notice when little Falcon admitted on a morning talk show that he was hiding in the attic the whole time.

The reality for Heeney: Time in the Larimer County Jail, $36,000 in restitution, and a public image that makes Kate Gosselin look like Mary Poppins. She could fly, too, couldn’t she?

OtterBox

Curt Richardson’s little company has been making rugged, waterproof cases to protect cell phones and BlackBerrys from active lifestyles since 1998, but iPhone Mania catapulted the Fort Collins manufacturer into overdrive. With the introduction of touchscreens in 2007, demand for protective cases for the delicate-yet-oh-so-expensive gadgets took off like a Mylar flying saucer. And Otter Products has been flying high ever since, filling a warehouse near I-25 and two locations in Old Town while its new headquarters is under construction, hiring throughout the recession, and receiving three major business awards in as many months earlier this year.

This is a company that the rest of the world otter know.

Solar Panels

They’re everywhere, from the roof of the Larimer County Courthouse to vast acreage on the Colorado State University Foothills Campus. Federal and state tax breaks combined with better technology – some of it developed at CSU – have solar collectors sprouting from residences throughout the region as well. Legislation passed in the 2010 session of the Colorado General Assembly not only upped the ante for commercial utilities to generate more power from alternative sources, but also allowed community solar and wind gardens. Look for even more panels to sprout on those subdivision lots that went into foreclosure before the developer went belly-up.

Foreclosures

And speaking of foreclosure, in 2007, well before the subprime mortgage market went pop on the predatory-lending weasels, foreclosure rates in Northern Colorado were hitting all-time highs, increasing 30 percent from 2006 in the first quarter alone. Nearly 73 percent of the filings were on homes with original loans of under $200,000.

With 20,437 foreclosures in 2009, Colorado spent most of the year in the RealtyTrac Top 10 among states with double-digit foreclosure rates. It seemed especially unfair, in a way. While the state did not see the fantastic run-up in prices of places like California, Florida and Nevada, where responsible homeowners could make some serious coin if they cashed out at the right time, we did watch local home values plummet and the residential construction industry forced to its knees.

The Colorado Department of Real Estate may have been embroiled in a bit of argy-bargy with former Director Erin Toll, but its Division of Housing has been out in front of the foreclosure mess. Since its inception in October 2006, Foreclosure Hotline counselors have received more than 100,000 calls and assisted more than 80 percent of homeowners reach a positive resolution with lenders.

And, hey, foreclosures aren’t just for families anymore. The Promenade Shops at Centerra finally went back to the bank in June, after developers Poag & McEwan and McWhinney could not find refinancing, and the local Marriott hotels are still waiting for a resolution to their proceedings.

Medical marijuana

To ban or not to ban, and thereby add to cash-strapped sales tax coffers? Nothing has divided the municipalities of Northern Colorado quite as much as whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, legal under state law since 2000, within their limits. Dispensaries – or as they are now known under new legislation that requires licensing at the state and local level, medical marijuana centers – have become as controversial as backyard chickens. And the results are about the same: Banned in Greeley; allowed in Fort Collins and Windsor with restrictions to blunt their impact on the surrounding community; a moratorium on new businesses in Evans and Loveland pending new ordinances. Larimer County is accepting no new applications until state regulations take effect next July. Weld County does not specify what types of crops can be grown in agricultural areas, but that’s now under review.

Smoke ’em if ya got ’em.

Lots of things happened in 2005. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Gulf Coast of the United States. Saddam Hussein went on trial in Iraq.

And in Northern Colorado, the Little Business Newspaper that Could celebrated its 10th anniversary.

To mark the momentous occasion, in January the Northern Colorado Business Report debuted a new design, its first major makeover since 1995. It looked a lot like the current newspaper – though a little wider, a little taller, a little less colorful – and had been…

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