In March 2017, the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce launched a $3.35 million fundraising campaign called Northern Colorado Prospers. When the campaign closed in mid-July, 100 investors had pledged $3.8 million over five years.
NCP has four strategic goals:
• Secure the funds to widen North I-25.
Member-owned not-for-profit Elevations Credit Union has a new branch in Midtown Fort Collins, featuring business bankers, commercial lenders and more.
• Implement a workforce development program to help employers secure talent.
• Aggressively advocate the perspective of business with government.
• Retain and help expand existing primary employers.
Fixing North I-25 is Northern Colorado’s most critical economic and quality of life issue. The state has not kept up with the capacity needs of its transportation infrastructure statewide. That is abundantly clear on North I-25 with a Level of Service rating of D, which is quickly headed to E and F. Already behind, the North I-25 corridor will be further challenged by anticipated population growth over the next 20 years.
The goal of leaders in the Larimer and Weld region is to secure the $1.7 billion necessary to widen North I-25 to three lanes each way, between Highway 14 in Fort Collins and Highway 66 north of Longmont by 2025. Government and business leaders have secured $570 million so far. NCP investors have played a critical role by paying for the lobbying, media relations, polling, and ally-building work.
Workforce availability and quality is a huge challenge for employers. A 2017 report published by the chamber, in conjunction with other partners, indicated a shortage of 5,000 to 9,000 workers over the next five years. At this time, the weight of retiring Boomers will be felt making things even worse. The report is called, “Talent 2.0: A Regional Economic Strategy for the Fort Collins-Loveland Metro Area” and the partners include Larimer County Workforce Center, Larimer County Economic Development, city of Fort Collins, city of Loveland, Loveland Chamber of Commerce, Northern Colorado Economic Alliance, Fort Collins Chamber and United Way of Larimer County.
The goal is to provide employers with tools and information they can use in their recruitment efforts and to mitigate the negative effects of issues like congestion, housing affordability and childcare. Among other things, Talent 2.0 partners have held a health-care job fair, piloted a web-based talent identification system, drafted collateral recruitment materials, researched a trailing spouse program and completed a study on cost of living and commute times in the Fort Collins-Loveland area vs. Denver and Boulder.
Advocating the business perspective to government and the public has become increasingly important. Government’s ongoing search for revenue puts business at risk of higher fees and more regulations. Additionally, there are some social and climate activists agendas afoot that are anti-business at their core and can lead to bad economic policy.
In 2017, two of three chamber-endorsed candidates were elected to the City Council. This year chamber committees are studying: the potential community and business costs and economic impacts (good and bad) of the city’s climate action plan; the impacts on electric rates and power reliability from possible changes at the regional power plant; and options for city government revenue, including whether the expiring short-term Keep Fort Collins Great sales tax should be renewed.
Keeping existing primary employers is the area’s top economic development strategy. This is reflected in the fourth goal of NCP. While attracting new companies is always exciting, most capital investments and job creation come from the expansion of existing primary employers. The cost of losing such companies is documented in a recent study in Illinois that showed substantial negative multipliers of losing 100 primary jobs in certain industry sectors. Over five years there is a net loss of 334 jobs and $24 million in personal income.
Again, we are working in partnership with other groups proactively interviewing primary employers in the Fort Collins-Loveland MSA.
After a year in operation NCP is yielding good results and reflects well on the decision of business leaders to aggregate long-term dedicated resources to these significant strategic initiatives. Visit www.northerncoloradoprospers.com.
David May is president and CEO of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.