Guest Columns

PENNY: NINE OUT OF 10 CITIES INVEST IN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Colorado hometowns rolling up sleeves

Solutions to our problems are often found right at home — and the current recession is a good example. I’m heartened to see that Colorado’s hometowns have rolled up their sleeves and are working hard to improve our state’s economy. That means jobs for our residents and investment in our communities. The annual Colorado Municipal League State of Our Cities and Towns Survey has been released and shows that nine out of 10 cities with populations greater than 4,000 and three-quarters of all towns are investing in economic development activities.

The variety of efforts under way is remarkable. Cities and towns are investing in programs to expand existing business and promote new business in their communities. They are sponsoring small business incubators, industry clusters and tourism promotions.

It’s no surprise that cities and towns are so deeply involved in stimulating the economy. They have the tools to make things happen. Municipalities assist business expansion or encourage new business by providing infrastructure, tax incentives, site redevelopment and zoning as well as by creating special improvement districts and urban renewal and downtown development authorities.

These efforts are showing results. The City of Evans increased construction activity last year by conducting a “half-price sale” for building and electrical permits in order to stimulate new construction and remodeling work. Fort Collins is a partner with Colorado State University and area businesses in a bioscience industry cluster that promotes new and expanded bioscience businesses in northern Colorado. Greeley is redeveloping an industrial brownfield site, and one of Colorado’s leading companies, Leprino Foods, is moving in with a new cheese processing plant.

Another bright spot has been the increase in manufacturing tied to Colorado’s new energy economy. Windsor, Fort Lupton, Brighton, Wheat Ridge, Pueblo and other cities have attracted businesses that make components for wind or solar energy devices. The economic incentive packages put together for these manufacturers by municipalities are often the deciding factor in bringing them to our state. Aurora broke ground for a 74-acre solar technology center that brings Colorado’s research universities together with energy companies to deliver energy alternatives to consumers.

I’ve found an interesting trend catching on in our cities and towns. “Buy local” campaigns have reached all four corners of the state and are showing signs of success. Our municipalities have been very creative. Everything from advertising campaigns to actual rebates for local purchases sprang up in 2009 from Lamar in the east to Durango in the west and dozens of cities in between. The campaigns can be very entertaining. Durango citizens have been treated to the costumed character “Buck” — a human-sized dollar bill — walking the downtown area handing out “buy-local” incentives to shoppers. Coloradans have found that buying local helps neighbors keep their jobs and supports local government services.

They are also continuing to invest in municipal infrastructure. Six of eight municipal bond issues on the November 2009 ballot were approved. Residents of Boulder, Cedaredge, Delta, Longmont, Ophir and Sterling invested a total of $126 million in local improvements for street repair, traffic safety, open space and water system upgrades.

2010 is expected to be another lean year for municipal budgets. Most cities and towns have cut spending by delaying maintenance, reducing services and cutting staff. Difficult budget decisions have been made by local elected officials. I think it’s smart policy not to include economic development efforts in those cuts. By making the economic pie larger, everyone benefits. More and better paying jobs are created for residents, consumer buying power is increased, government revenues are generated to provide public services, and a robust economy develops for Colorado.

Michael Penny is Frisco town manager and president of the Colorado Municipal League.