A decade after the dawn of the Great Recession, the Longmont area has righted the economic ship and many local business leaders believe growth will continue through 2018.

During Wednesday's Advance Longmont Economic Development Summit, an annual event hosted by the Longmont Economic Development Partnership, experts pointed to a host of factors that have combined to create a thriving economy in the city. Those include a commitment to innovation, a strategically advantageous geographic location, a highly skilled work force, and a comparatively low cost of real estate.

"Longmont, through the past several years, has been one of the most innovative communities in the state of Colorado," Longmont EDP President Jessica Erickson said, citing the number of patents filed by city businesses as evidence of innovation success.

This success comes despite the city's lack of a university or research labs. Rather, Erickson said, Longmont has "a bunch of mad scientists running around ... doing really cool things and inventing really cool things."

Tom Bugnitz, CEO of the statewide nonprofit development assistance group Manufacturer's Edge, said even in the often slow-to-adapt manufacturing world Boulder County and Longmont companies are finding space to innovate.

"It's the beer people, it's the apparel people, it's the outdoor people making bikes and backpacks" who are taking manufacturing in interesting new directions, he said.


Advertisement

"What Longmont's got is kind of a yin and yang," he said. "It's got solid manufacturers who come to work everyday and produce products for the defense industry and those type of things. Then you've got these creative people, which provides a new energy."

During the Great Recession when companies across the country were shedding jobs, local workers "weren't just sitting around in Boulder County waiting for another job to come along," Erickson said. "They were creating their own jobs and starting their own businesses."

But it's not just entrepreneurs making the local economy hum, experts say. One of the city's biggest economic development successes in recent years was the attraction of a new Smuckers plant expected to create more than 500 new jobs.

"The investment and the indirect fiscal and economic impacts of that cannot be understated," Erickson said while addressing the group of roughly 75 gathered at the Plaza Convention Center.

Part of what draws employers to the city and to the region as a whole is the local work force.

"Here in Longmont and here along the Front Range we have a highly skilled work force," said David Kerr, a local patent attorney who specializes in technology and bioscience companies. "That's a big advantage, you don't have that everywhere."

Kerr said the city's location has and will continue to play a role in its economic success.

"Longmont is perfectly positioned to steal a lot of this" economic growth and capital investment from other parts of the country and state. "It's close to Boulder, it's close to Denver, it's close to Ft. Collins, and it is still relatively reasonable in terms of cost for a place where people want to live."

Despite their overall bullish expectations for the local economy, speakers at Wednesday's summit did not have their heads in the sand about challenges to continued success.

One of the biggest challenges facing both Longmont and the entire metro Denver area is the increasing lack of affordable housing, Silverstein said.

While Longmont remains slightly more affordable than neighboring Boulder, "as we become more expensive the question is whether our companies can afford to recruit the employees they need and retain the employees," she said.

Kerr pointed to a "lack of anchor companies" as a challenge for the city's economic development, particularly in the biotech industry.

"AstraZeneca is a nice to company have, but this isn't the headquarters," he said. "It's not 30,000 employees, it's not the Amazon headquarters that could change the face of a place like Longmont."

While the region is well stocked with technology experts, there are relatively few corporate executives with track records of effectively running companies, Kerr added.

Other challenges and potential pitfalls experts noted involve underdeveloped transportation infrastructure, inflation, and the potential for a rise in anti-growth sentiment as the city and region's population continues trending upward.

Lucas High: 303-684-5310, lhigh@times-call.com