Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Commerce City Interview with Economic Development Department Director Brittany Morris

Commerce City Interview was done by Commerce City...

If you would, please recap the first part of 2010 and talk about where Commerce City Economic Development is focused?

Well, we’ve spent a good part of our year implementing the first Economic Development Strategic Plan in Commerce City’s history. The plan was approved unanimously by City Council on April 5, 2010. Developed after careful study, this plan addresses key areas where focused attention is likely to bring success in the near- and long-term.
In short, the plan commits us to serving as an advocate for the business and development community, finding partners that will create quality jobs for our residents, enabling the city to diversify its economic base, and supporting new and existing businesses of all sizes in a manner that is sustainable for the long-term.

Our planning is definitely paying off. Back in June, we announced that Cummins Rocky Mountain – the makers of the famous Cummins Diesel Engine – have committed to building North America’s largest diesel remanufacturing facility right here in Commerce City. This brings 70 new jobs to Commerce City in the near-term, and will grow to more than 140 jobs over the next several years.

Also, the 2010 Commerce City Incentive Program, approved by Council in May, has been very well-received by the business community. Designed to spark economic growth in 2010, these incentives are tailored to positively impact homeowners and businesses alike. Case in point, many homeowners who endured that crazy springtime hail storm have taken advantage of the 50 percent rebate the city offers on the building permit fees required to re-shingle roofs and replace damaged siding.

How badly has what some are calling “The Great Recession” impacted Commerce City?

I think the answer to that is pretty obvious if you ask residents and families around town, and there’s certainly a reason people call it the Great recession. The good news, according to Moody’s Analytics and other economic sources, is that Colorado should be among the first states to see growth in jobs.

The question becomes – how can government help get there sooner?

We decided to go to the experts – local Commerce City businesses, and businesses who are thinking about moving here. We convened the group in March and called it the Business Advancement Taskforce – or BAT for short.

In a nutshell, the BAT recommended that Commerce City streamline its processes and provide “bootstrap” incentives to help exit this recession. They submitted to council the taskforce’s recommendations to spur economic activity, which were approved unanimously.

These incentives have had a definite impact on economic vitality of our community. Case in point, we provided homebuilders a $1,500 rebate for each home built during the eligibility period, which expires on December 1, 2010. The city issued 130 building permits in all of 2009, but has issued 211 permits through the end of September. While it obviously isn’t the only reason homebuilders chose to build houses this year, I’m confident that the 2010 Commerce City Incentive Program,
made doing so more economically viable.

What would you say are your biggest successes since taking the position?

It’s really hard to talk about successes when families in Commerce City are struggling to make ends-meet. I take seriously the responsibility of my division to build relationships with existing businesses to learn how we can support them, and foster relationships with new businesses that may be looking to relocate.

I’m proud that we have the support of our elected officials to make bold moves as detailed in the Economic Development Strategic Plan, and I’m also proud of achievements in attracting businesses like Cummins Rocky Mountain. What also comes to mind is progress on the second phase of development around the Prairie Gateway and the incentive program I mentioned earlier.

I’m hopeful that when you talk with business owners they would say they have advocates in this office who truly care about helping them succeed. In doing so, we help families in our community improve their employment options and increase their personal economic security.

Where would you say you’ve fallen short?

That’s easy – we need to do better when it comes to communicating with residents.

Hence why you’re here?

Yes! I feel like we do a fair job of making sure our business partners are informed of the efforts we’re making and the programs that are available to them, but in the next year my department will broaden our communications to those we consider other audiences and stakeholder groups.

How can they expect to keep tabs on news out of Economic Development?

We are launching an electronic newsletter on Oct. 15 and we invite all businesses and residents to sign up. Our vision for the piece is one that communicates directly with our audiences and delivers news they want and need. It will include profiles of both long-term and new businesses opening in our community, a calendar of events, fast facts about doing business in Commerce City, and other pertinent economic development news.

Our goal is to increase awareness of the great things happening for businesses in Commerce City, and the newsletter is just one tool. Other tools we’re experimenting with include social media such as Twitter, I encourage everyone to visit our website at www.c3ed.com to sign up for the newsletter and visit www.twitter.com/CommerceCityED for up to the minute Economic Development news.

Where are you in terms of achieving your 2010 goals?

We have actively pursued and achieved quite a few of the strategies found in the Economic Development Strategic Plan. A few of these include the launch and promotion of the Incentive Package, developing new ways to communicate with stakeholders by 'going where they are'; in other words, using channels they're already watching, such as an e-mail newsletter, social media like Twitter, etc.

We've also launched a new development review process that has received rave reviews by businesses and developers alike, who have commented that we're some of the easiest people with whom to work, and have some of the fastest development review times in the Denver-Metro area. Finally, we're also creating and updating marketing materials to make sure we're effectively messaging our city's competitive advantages to audiences across the country.

What do you see as your mid-term goals – say through the end of 2011?

They’re pretty ambitious, but among our first priorities is to attract a grocery store to the Northern Range. We hear and understand the frustration of our residents who must leave city limits to do their grocery shopping, so efforts on that issue continue on many fronts.

We’re also forming the Commerce City Economic Development Business Advisory Committee and Commerce City Economic Development Citizen Advisory Committee. The goals of these are to bring together individuals much like we did for the BAT, who are invested in our community and experts on challenges they are facing and creative with solutions of how we might assist them.

Also, we’ll aggressively market the second phase of development on the Prairie Gateway, and actively target our five industries with a marketing campaign at the beginning of the year.

Finally, given the success of the first Business and Development Summit, we plan to host a second one in 2011.

There’s been a good amount of talk regarding the issue of bringing a grocery store to the Northern Range, what’s the status of that?

Like I said before, we understand the frustration of residents in the Northern Range who were promised a grocery store in their neighborhood and have yet to see one materialize. Attracting a grocery store to the Northern Range has and continues to be our No. 1 priority.

The fact of the matter is that a city can provide incentives that make it more attractive to open a business. Unfortunately, incentives alone very rarely the reason any business “pulls the trigger” and decides to open its doors.

But wait – didn’t the city provide incentives?

We did offer Walmart an attractive package of incentives, but what incentives can’t change is the economic realities that a business faces. When they don’t believe the market will make their operation profitable, they’re not likely to open a storefront.

So what’s the next step?

We recently sent a letter to Walmart representatives and asked for a definitive decision about if and when they anticipate breaking ground. At the same time, we don’t want to alienate this valuable partner who already operates a successful business (and supplies valuable sales tax revenue) in the southern part of the city.
With a definitive statement in-hand from Walmart, we’ll either be able to share good news about their intentions, or move forward to explore other opportunities.

While we continue to pursue Walmart, they’re not the only potential partner in the grocery business that is on our radar. Honestly, we’d love to have a Walmart in the Northern Range. We’d also love to have a major grocery provider in order to create a truly sustainable community. My point is – let’s attract Walmart, and a major grocer, and specialty stores, large retail – everything!

Often I think we take our lumps because there might be the perception that progress is slow in this area, but I’m hopeful that people will understand that when negotiating with developers and retailers there are three parts to that stool. There are so many moving parts, and there are many cases when developers and retailers forbid us from talking about our conversations because they want their plans kept secret from their competition.

One thing I want to make clear is that the city remains committed to courting those in the grocery industry who may be interested in opening a storefront in the north. We understand the needs of our residents, but the reality is we can’t force any private enterprise to make a business decision such as this. We are doing what we can, and we ask for their continued patience.

Beyond being patient, is there anything residents can do to help?

Actually, there may very well be. I was approached by a resident in the north who suggested we start a campaign at the grassroots level to show how eager the residents are to have their own grocer. While this concept is still under development, we’re looking for positive entries that we can show potential businesses and developers just how in demand their goods and services are in the
north, and how welcome (and successful!) they would be.

Look for more information of how to get involved in this project in the near future.

Speaking of incentives, how successful has the incentive program been?

I’d say it has been successful, as evidenced by the number of applications we’ve received by businesses and homeowners who are interested in participating. To date, we’ve received 7 applications from businesses and 117 applications from homeowners.

Further, City Council has approved 5 incentive agreements providing for over $500,000 in incentives to existing and new Commerce City businesses that plan to invest more than $15 million in capital investments and create more than 250 new jobs.

Do you anticipate asking City Council to renew this program for the coming year?

We’re still evaluating that question. I think the case gets stronger with every application we receive, so I’d again encourage everyone to visit our website to learn about what incentives they may qualify for.

Your division hosted its annual Business Appreciation Breakfast earlier this month – what was the purpose and how did it go?

As most businesses in the city know, we host an annual event where we gather to honor commerce in our community. Three-fourths of all new jobs in the country and more than one-half of the nation’s gross domestic product are attributable to small business, and we pause each year to recognize them.

This year we honored Alpine Recycling with our Small Business of the Year Award. We selected them because it has been among the area’s fastest growing companies every year since the company’s inception in 1999; averaging more than 40 percent annual growth, with 8 percent growth in the heart of the national economic recession.

This year’s breakfast was difficult because our division lost one of our own not too long ago. Pam Downs, who in addition to being a respected colleague and friend was the visionary behind the Commerce City Business Retention and Expansion program and the Business Appreciation Event, lost her battle with cancer. We miss her dearly, but are hopeful her legacy will live on through an award we presented to Maria Gonzalez of the Gonzalez Insurance Group in Pam’s honor. Titled the Lilac Award –Lilacs were Pam’s favorite flower – we plan to make this an annual award to keep Pam’s spirit alive in all of us.

We’ll close soon, but before then, what is the single biggest challenge that the city faces economically – and what’s the biggest opportunity?

Our demographics are strong and we’ve got ample space to grow. As we identified in the Economic Development Strategic Plan, our strengths lie in our existing industrial base, the ample development opportunities in along the E-470 corridor, being right next door to DIA – the fifth busiest airport in the US and the 11th busiest airport in the World – as well as our diversity. We’ve got diversity in people and diversity in business, and the incredible amount of opportunity surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods Park and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. These are only a snapshot of our strengths; there are too many to list..

As far as our biggest opportunity, I think it’s that Commerce City is too often underestimated by our competition. We see our strength and the opportunity that surrounds us. Our challenge – and one I believe we’re successfully overcoming – is to share that vision, that passion with decision makers who will make our city their home. This is why an aggressive marketing campaign to our target industries is absolutely vital to the City’s economic future and why this is a major goal of the Economic Development Strategic Plan.

I like to say that we’re planting seeds that will soon sprout – and what a harvest it will be!

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