Economy & Economic Development  July 30, 2010

Eco-devos collaborate for region

Northern Colorado’s two economic development organizations are taking steps to work more closely together to accomplish their common mission: Bring good-paying, primary jobs to Northern Colorado.

But they’re not quite ready to take that extra step and become a single, unified organization.

“We’ve talked about the 800-pound gorilla in the room, a merger of the two economic development organizations,´ said John DeWitt, chairman of the board for Upstate Colorado, which focuses on Weld County. “It needs to be well-thought-out. What are the benefits? Does it bring us one more job? I don’t think the answer is yes. It’s maybe.”

George Hayes, chairman of the board for Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. that puts its emphasis on Larimer County, agreed it’s too early to say.

“It hasn’t been ruled out,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the first step either organization wants to take. The first step is to find as many ways to collaborate as we can.”

Last month, representatives of the boards of both Upstate and NCEDC discussed how the two could find more opportunities to deliver services in the two-county region.

“We recognize that the assets that attract and retain quality employers in our area transcend jurisdictional boundaries,´ said DeWitt, in a press release. “It is the composite of these educational, business, transportation and lifestyle characteristics that make this region a highly desirable business location.”

The board members noted an increasing level of collaboration on marketing the region. They cited the publication of a two-county Economic Profile, joint marketing at trade shows and site selector conferences, and an effort by both to seek more investment by renewable energy companies.

Mike Masciola, NCEDC’s chief operations officer and senior vice president, joined Larry Burkhardt, Upstate’s president and CEO, on a trip to Texas in May to market the region to one of the largest wind power conferences in the world.

Unified pitch

Masciola said the intent was to amplify the strengths of each county and make a unified pitch for the region.

“If a company was interested in Northern Colorado, Larry and I were able to pitch all the assets throughout the region,” he said. “If they wanted to hear about the industrial side, Larry could talk about that, and if they wanted to hear about the research side and Colorado State University, I could talk about that.”

Masciola said the Texas trip did indeed prove fruitful. “As a total group, we came out with about 30 solid leads.”

Weld County, especially the Windsor area, has been a focus of alternative energy growth in recent years with the addition of Vestas Americas, Hexcel and other companies. At the same time, CSU has taken a leadership role in advancing alternative energy research through its Clean Energy Supercluster.

Masciola said Burkhardt asked him to join Upstate’s clean energy marketing committee because NCEDC didn’t have one.

“I credit it to Larry,” he said. “He reached over and invited me to participate in that committee and I accepted his invitation. The focus is we both have the same target of attracting clean energy.”

Burkhardt acknowledges a closer association is growing based on a shared desire to attract good jobs. And that means keeping an open dialogue between the two entities and with others.

“When I go in and talk to a site selector, I can tell them we’ve done quite well in Weld County,” he said. “But I can increase the impact of our message when I say we’re less than one hour from DIA and have research facilities at CSU and CU and the School of Mines. By that time the eyes of the site selector get bigger and bigger and they realize this region is a leader in the renewable energy sector.”

Burkhardt said having Upstate and NCEDC both become members of the Metro Denver EDC, a nine-county regional marketing group, has also sharpened the focus on attracting new employers.

“Together, if we work to promote the Denver metro area, we’re going to get our fair share of that,” he said.

Growing collaborative spirit

A growing spirit of collaboration is something both organizations can agree upon. Masciola said he noticed it as soon as he took over as head of NCEDC following the resignation of former CEO Maury Dobbie in May 2009.

“Since last May when I started in this job, Larry and I have actively been working together and communicating quite often about where we can work together and create better efficiencies for both organizations,” he said.

NCEDC’s Hayes, who came to the area in 2007 to become president of Medical Center of the Rockies, said moving more toward collaboration should help reduce any perception of competition.

“I don’t really know how competitive they have been in the past or how people perceive that, but we want to give less of a perception of that,” he said.

But when it comes to actually merging the two organizations, Upstate and NCEDC officials are circumspect. “We’re definitely open to thinking outside the box when it comes to new ideas and doing things differently,” DeWitt said. “It just has to be done for the right reasons.”

More discussions will be held by both boards before anything definite is decided about a merger, Hayes noted. “We’re kind of going through that process of asking if it’s better to have one united or two separate organizations,” he said. “If that meets the needs of both organizations, great. But we need to see what the boards think about that.”

Masciola said his perception is that a merger is something that’s still a bit farther down the road – if it happens at all.

Burkhardt won’t discuss the possibility of a merger at all, saying it is a “policy matter” for the two organizations’ boards of directors. But he said the concept of collaboration is one that can be taken much farther with more benefits for all in the region.

Northern Colorado’s two economic development organizations are taking steps to work more closely together to accomplish their common mission: Bring good-paying, primary jobs to Northern Colorado.

But they’re not quite ready to take that extra step and become a single, unified organization.

“We’ve talked about the 800-pound gorilla in the room, a merger of the two economic development organizations,´ said John DeWitt, chairman of the board for Upstate Colorado, which focuses on Weld County. “It needs to be well-thought-out. What are the benefits? Does it bring us one more job? I don’t think the answer is yes. It’s maybe.”

George Hayes, chairman of…

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