Economy & Economic Development  January 14, 2011

New tech park spurs space race among cities, counties

A new space race is on along the Front Range – one for clean energy manufacturing space.

The Colorado Association of Manufacturing and Technology has embarked on a partnership to promote aerospace and clean energy development and job growth in the state. It has signed onto the NASA Space Act Agreement to accelerate technology development and build a massive manufacturing innovation park, expected to host up to 100 businesses and help create 10,000 jobs in Colorado. The tech campus will give a boost to the aerospace and clean-tech industries – and the city where it is built.

At a mid-December press conference unveiling the agreement, officials said they hope to site the Aerospace Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Center somewhere between Boulder and Loveland, setting off a competition among cities to lure the park inside their borders.

“This is an investment that can potentially be very transformational for the community and the region in bringing technology-based employment to Northern Colorado,´ said Bill Cahill, Loveland city manager. “So we view it as an exceptionally high priority. Loveland is very motivated to work aggressively to bring the (manufacturing innovation park) to Loveland.”

Despite the enthusiasm and some prime locations, the city will have to fend off other suitors to land the technology campus.

Aerospace, clean-energy collaboration

CAMT is a public-private organization, working on behalf of the roughly 6,000 manufacturers, providing companies with training, technical assistance and hands-on services for technology implementation. The association began exploring a collaboration with NASA following an aerospace conference last spring, according to CAMT CEO Elaine Thorndike. The overlap in supply chains, technology and workforce between the space and clean-energy sectors helped officials realize that it made sense to cooperatively foster growth in both fields, which are the fastest growing industries in Colorado.

The five-year agreement establishes a regional innovation cluster based around aerospace and clean energy. It also creates the Technology Acceleration Program to facilitate tech-spinoff companies and products. Specifically, TAP will provide businesses with consulting services to commercialize NASA and other technologies to bring products to appropriate markets. Examples already in motion include thin-film solar cells and temperature-regulating textiles for outdoor gear.

At the December press conference, NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver said the partnership could reduce companies’ product-development timelines from an average of five years to just 18 months. Another cooperative deal between CAMT and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden mirrors the terms of the NASA deal, Thorndike added.

The centerpiece of the partnership is the ACE Innovation Park, a state-of-the-art research and manufacturing campus that will include common laboratories and other spaces for numerous companies on and off site.

“We’ve had a lot of interest, from small companies and from Lockheed (Martin) and Boeing, Vestas and Ball Aerospace,” Thorndike said.

Officials envision that smaller companies would be housed at the park, and share equipment for testing and product development, as well as the associated costs. Other companies could also take advantage of expertise from NASA, NREL and university scientists and other staff. The site should cover about 200 acres and consist of 2 million square feet of offices, labs and manufacturing equipment.

“The park came as a result of the convergence of these two (industries), and the gap in getting these technologies to market faster,” Thorndike added.

CAMT projects the innovation cluster of aerospace and clean-energy businesses will generate a net $7 billion annually. The manufacturing innovation park should create 7,000 local jobs, and add 3,000 more new employment positions elsewhere in the state.

After dispatching a survey to prospective tenants this past December, CAMT came up with its target region for the technology park – between Boulder and Loveland – because of the proximity to both Colorado State University and the University of Colorado and NREL. CAMT is working with the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade to develop site criteria and hone in on a physical location.

Competition heating up

The competition to land the manufacturing innovation park is already heating up. Don Marostica, the former executive director of the state economic-development office, has said there are 11 existing industrial sites in the running, in addition undeveloped parcels that will be considered.

Longmont city council members and other city leaders scored face time with CAMT and state economic-development officials in December to make their pitch. The city’s economic council president supplied a letter announcing a $40 million investment commitment from one developer if Longmont is chosen as the site. But that amount, while considerable, is only a fraction of the cost to build the park and supply the billions of dollars of equipment to be housed there.

Loveland officials are making the case for the technology park to be located at the 347-acre former campus of Agilent Technologies, while also promoting other suitable undeveloped sites. City Manager Cahill said Loveland has assembled a staff team to put together its own proposal, and representatives of the site selection team are expected to visit with Loveland city council sometime in January.

“We think that we present a lot of advantages for that project and it is a perfect fit for the kind of creative endeavor that Loveland is known for,” Cahill said.

Greeley and Windsor aren’t ignoring the opportunity, either. The Eastman Kodak campus in Windsor, which once included a million square feet of buildings, and the long-vacant Hewlett-Packard site west Greeley are among the 11 developed sites in the mix. However, their locations east of Interstate 25 leaves the Weld County locations further away than other from the announced target zone.

The selection process will take into consideration how different cities and existing businesses fit into the regional innovation cluster of aerospace and clean-energy industries, and what services and capabilities they already have to leverage, Thorndike said. The site selection could include various scenarios, such as developing around old or new buildings and making use of multiple campuses or satellite offices.

According to Thorndike, officials expect to choose a site by March 15.

A new space race is on along the Front Range – one for clean energy manufacturing space.

The Colorado Association of Manufacturing and Technology has embarked on a partnership to promote aerospace and clean energy development and job growth in the state. It has signed onto the NASA Space Act Agreement to accelerate technology development and build a massive manufacturing innovation park, expected to host up to 100 businesses and help create 10,000 jobs in Colorado. The tech campus will give a boost to the aerospace and clean-tech industries – and the city where it is built.

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