What drives real economic growth in South Metro Denver?

Director of Lone Tree’s economic development department Jeff Holwell explained how the city’s economic expansion is planned around its current and future light rail stations.

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

On Nov. 9, South Metro Denver Chamber (SMDC) hosted an important program on “Recruitment, Retention, Expansion,” at its City of Lone Tree office. The program’s subtitle told the real story: “How Does South Metro Grow Its Business Base For All?”

The panel consisted of the heads of economic development from the three south metro cities most focused on long-term financial viability, Centennial, Lone Tree and Castle Rock, along with state Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial. Tate currently serves on the state Senate’s finance committee and chairs the business, labor and technology committee. That will change when the 2019 session of the legislature begins in January since Democrats now control 19 of the state Senate’s 35 seats. Before the Nov. 6 election, Republicans controlled the chamber.

Dave Schlatter, chair of SMDC’s economic development committee, opened the program. He framed the issue, “How do you expand business today? Business is affected by public policy.”

In the City of Lone Tree, only three departments report directly to the city manager, the arts center, the police and economic development. Jeff Holwell, economic development director, talked about the importance of the light rail in the city’s ability to attract top employers. He noted that potential new businesses consistently note transportation, transit and community development as important factors when choosing business locations. He said, “Mixed-use development is significant for our economic development.” Lone Tree currently has two light rail stops but will increase that number to five by next year.

Holwell said that while retail is the basis of business in the city, the financial sector is growing, accounting for 7,768 jobs, led by Charles Schwab, currently Lone Tree’s largest single employer. Right behind financial is the health care and education sector, led by Sky Ridge Hospital and Kaiser Permanente.

He concluded by showing a slide of a 12-acre site near the Sky Ridge Rail Station, which he described as being available for another significant employer, since, according to Holwell, “Seventy percent of class A office space is being built around light rail.”

State Sen. Jack Tate talked about the importance of state government’s focus on keeping the cost of doing business in Colorado low. Photos by Freda Miklin

Stewart Meek, an economic development specialist for the City of Centennial, said, “Employers tell us that access to the workforce is limited by transportation options and the cost of living, primarily affordable housing.”

Asked what Centennial is doing to promote retention and expansion of current businesses and employers, he said, “Our comprehensive plan is important. The diversity of housing, especially around light rail, is very important. Homes are where jobs live. That fact is often missed.” He went on, “We know that it’s important to create cool, walkable spaces where people want to be.”

Centennial’s largest employers are Comcast, Arrow Electronics and United HealthCare.

Frank Gray, present/CEO, Castle Rock Economic Development, talked about the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, whose role is “to expand the region’s businesses and workforce including influencing of legislative policy.” He said, “Businesses don’t care about municipal boundaries. Here (in Colorado) we recruit as a region. It works for everybody.”

He talked about the River Walk project in Castle Rock, which is fully leased, including 250 apartments, retail, restaurants and offices. He said they are starting on a new project with 125 condominiums and 150 people on the waitlist before ground has been broken. Gray said they “want to keep people living and working in Castle Rock.”

Tate said that state government connects with local economic development officials when looking at financial incentives for businesses considering relocating to Colorado. “There’s no substitute for keeping the cost of doing business low. If taxes are too high or regulations overburdening, everything we do to attract and retain businesses won’t work. They come here because of the great environment and skilled workforce.” He said that incentives provided by the state are performance-based and depend on real job growth.

After the panel discussion, The Villager asked Nathan Bishop, the business analyst in the city manager’s office at the City of Greenwood Village, what he learned from the program that might apply to his city. He said, about the City of Greenwood Village, “We don’t have an economic development policy. Our comprehensive plan is in draft mode right now.”

fmiklin.villager@gmail.com

City of Centennial Economic Development Specialist Stewart Meek talked about potential employers’ focus on transportation options and affordable housing.
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