Monday July 27, 2015 0 comments
NORTHERN COLORADO -- Northern Colorado is an undisputed economic powerhouse in the state, but it could be making more progress if it had a unified voice when it comes to attracting new primary employers with good-paying jobs.
That’s the view of a group of business and economic leaders who are working to create the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance (NCEA), a privately funded nonprofit economic development organization.
Two existing eco-devo organizations – Upstate Colorado in Weld County and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. in Larimer County – have been in charge of attracting new primary employers to their respective counties.
But both organizations have suffered from leadership changes and difficulties in marketing their respective communities, and NCEA leaders say their organization can pick up the ball and run it more effectively as one unified region.
“We really do talk about a regional approach to marketing,” says Bruce Biggi, an economic development veteran for the cities of Fort Collins and Greeley and NCEA’s chief marketing officer.
“Our real goal is to focus on economic development, because there was never really enough done to market Northern Colorado.”
Mary Atchison, NCEA’s chief operating officer, said combining the populations of the two counties makes the region a much more attractive choice for companies looking to locate in Colorado.
Atchison said the Metro Denver Area Chamber of Commerce is frequently a starting point for companies making Colorado location inquiries, and Metro Denver is focused on numbers.
“When counties or communities market themselves individually, the numbers don’t make it,” she said. “We know (combining numbers) increases our competitive advantage.”
Atchison notes that -- in the last several years -- there’s been an evolution in thinking about the two-county area now being thought of as one region and not two constantly competing rivals.
Increasingly, those living in Larimer and Weld counties regularly cross county lines for their jobs and shopping, diminishing the notion of a hard economic boundary between the two jurisdictions.
“The business leaders who support NCEA recognized that when companies come to Northern Colorado, it benefits everybody,” Atchison said.
NCEA’S board of directors includes some of the region’s most well-known names, including Chairman Scott Ehrlich, owner of Ehrlich Motors; Tom Gendron, Woodward CEO; Troy McWhinney, co-founder of McWhinney Company that developed Centerra; and Mark Driscoll, First National Bank market president.
Atchison said business leaders in both counties are unified in their desire to bring more primary employers to Northern Colorado.
But beyond the immediate benefits of good jobs for the region’s residents, there are other considerations, she said.
One is to help keep graduates of Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado in the region, contributing to the economy with their skills and new businesses.
Another is to have more job choices for professionals to remain in the region and not move to bigger cities in order to advance their careers.
Rocky Scott, Woodard’s former director of corporate affairs, is serving as NCEA’s interim CEO until an ongoing national search can find a permanent CEO.
Atchison said she expects that search to be completed by the end of 2015.
Atchison said she looks at the area’s marketing efforts as something that all three eco-devo organizations can share by staying in their own “swim lanes.”
“Our goal is what is your swim lane?” she said. “That means really having conversations about making sure everything is covered but without duplication.
“There hasn’t been a lot of active national and international marketing of this area, and we can fill a niche that hasn’t been covered.”
“We’re here as a value-added organization,” says Biggi, noting that NCEA will not use any public funds in its efforts but will instead rely on private investors to fund its work.
“We feel it’s really going to be a market-driven decision,” he said.
Atchison said in addition to identifying specific strengths and needs of the region for its marketing efforts, one of the first things NCEA will do is convene gatherings of business leaders from both counties.
“Just having employers get together is something we’ve never done in Northern Colorado,” she said. “We think through that we can develop a very strong and powerful group.”
Atchison said NCEA is looking to the Denver Metro Chamber and its executive VP, Tom Clark, for guidance and as a model for marketing otherwise competing municipalities. Clark is also CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
Clark, who once served as president of the Fort Collins and Boulder chambers, said Northern Colorado is doing well but could likely benefit from an organization like NCEA.
“Additional funding for marketing and increased visibility are always a plus, particularly when all parties are in agreement of what the brand is and how to deliver the message,” he said.
Clark said the Denver Metro Chamber has learned how to speak on behalf of multiple municipalities who might otherwise be considered rivals.
“The ‘secret sauce’ requires a shared vision and continuous interaction among the potential partners,” he said. “Holding partners together is more a process than a structure.
“We were successful years ago by providing something to our partners that they could not pay for themselves or in excess of what they already had. The role of the larger organization is as a servant leader whose leadership came from acclamation from our partners, not proclamation by us.”
NCEA is still very much in its formative stages and does not yet have a website or logo.
But both Atchison and Biggi say they believe NCEA has the potential to make a big difference in the economic future of the region.
“We don’t have enough prospects coming in the funnel, and that’s what we want to do,” said Atchison.
“I think if this is done right, it will truly meet the needs of the area,” adds Biggi. “The goal is to bring the right kinds of companies to Northern Colorado, because you want permanence.”