LONGMONT — Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins are usually the names mentioned when out-of-state entrepreneurs talk about the places in Colorado that impress them.
But there’s another Front Range city whose entrepreneurs think it has a role to play as the Centennial State’s next great tech and startup hub.
Longmont is widely seen as having the utility infrastructure, talent pool, quality of life and — perhaps most importantly — cheaper cost of living to lure up-and-coming companies, and the Longmont community is using its Startup Week as a springboard to gain some recognition.
“There’s something special budding in Longmont, and I wanted to experience it,” said Scott Resnick, a keynote speaker and founding member of StartingBlock Madison, who came from Wisconsin to see Longmont’s startup ecosystem.
Resnick said he realized Longmont was more than a town with startups when he attended a health-tech panel and a smart cities panel that could have been held in Boston, Silicon Valley or New York without missing a beat.
“It blew me away,” he said. “For a community this size, there’s something special in the ingredients it has.”
Indeed, Longmont does have elements that set it apart from other cities in the region. In 2014, the city started project NextLight, making it Colorado’s first gigabit city with ultra-high speed Internet available to every home and business. In 2017, PC magazine named Longmont the city with the fastest Internet service in the country — outperforming Kansas City, Mo., and Austin.
Other benefits are its low-cost utilities and access to talent.
Situated between University of Colorado and Colorado State University (and a short drive from the University of Northern Colorado), there’s plenty to draw from when it comes to hiring talent. The St. Vrain Valley School District was named one of the Top 100 future-ready schools in the country, under the Obama administration’s Office of Educational Technology in the Department of Education.
Longmont also has the second-highest number of patents per capita in Colorado.
“There are so many pieces that come together to start and grow a business,” said Janine Ledingham, director of local business and startup community development at the Longmont Economic Development Partnership.
There are many that have taken advantage of what Longmont has to offer for entrepreneurs.
Katie Hedrick, CEO of Colorado Tech Shop, a company that can provide the design, prototyping, engineering and manufacturing of products for other small businesses, said the city’s small size and ability to connect with other local companies is a big draw for her.
While the city’s small size is a benefit, many in Longmont wouldn’t mind seeing it grow.
The city is already seeing attention from outside companies. Ron Thomas, founder and executive director of the maker space TinkerMill, knows of four member companies that moved to Longmont because of the access to the maker space and community it has.
“I don’t see this being a secret for long,” Resnick said.
To be sure, there can be risks of growth, particularly if it leads to higher costs: For many, the appeal of Longmont, especially compared with Boulder or Denver, is its price point.
“Boulder is pricing itself out,” Hedrick said. “Unless you’re Google, you can’t afford to do business in its backyard.”
Resnick said that affordability and burn rate of capital is a big issue for entrepreneurs. If a startup can find the elements it needs, such as mentorship and guidance, then they’re often looking for locations where their money can last the longest.
“All startups are looking to experiment as cheap as possible,” he said. “So if they can raise a family, buy a home and do it in Longmont, then there’s an appealing allure.”
The risk of Longmont coming onto the national radar is growing to a point of losing its affordability.
“It has to ensure that quality of life,” he said. “So when the demand for housing goes up, the price doesn’t increase radically. I’m sure there are homeowners that would like to see home values go up 7 percent, but not 20 percent because of the taxes.”
But Thomas is confident in the city’s planning and zoning department maintaining the balance of growing the city and not pricing out existing companies or interested entrepreneurs.
“The worse thing you can do is move to a new town and close the doors behind you,” he said. “Our community is being welcoming.”
Longmont must be conscious not only of price. It also must cultivate an image.
“There’s an unfortunate and old sense that Longmont is a rural community,” Thomas said. “The stigma has stuck, but we’ve done a great job overcoming it.”
Hedrick added that Longmont has flown under the radar compared with other cities, with cities such as Boulder “more in your face” with press, its university and its size.
“I think Longmont has gone through a lot of nice development in the last five to 10 years,” she said. “Fifteen years ago, it was a sleepy country town. That’s changed.”
For its part, the Longmont Economic Development Partnership is working on marketing Longmont, Ledingham said, perpetuating its new tech-savvy image.
The biggest focus for Longmont’s entrepreneurs, Resnick said, is to continue deciding what identity the city wants to have.
Instead of trying to mirror Boulder or Austin or other national startup cities, Resnick said he would like to see Longmont continue to be its own community. He said he encourages the city to continue to leverage its network of companies coming into the city to spread the message of Longmont’s benefits.
“It’s not about tax-based incentives,” he said, “but about authentic conversations.”
And to Resnick, he sees the path to how Longmont could be up there in the list of great Colorado cities for startups.
“Longmont could be a wonderful expansion to the Colorado tech space,” he said. “There’s an excitement here that is different from Boulder or Denver. There’s something new and special.”