Conveniently situated halfway between Boulder and Denver, Westminster Colorado is an ideal business location. “You have access to labor force, access to suppliers, access to educational resources, access to a variety of housing,” says Economic Development Director Susan Grafton. “Access is the big differentiator.”
Home to approximately 109,000 people, Westminster sits along I-25, which runs all the way from Canada to Mexico, and US-36, where the bulk of the traffic between Denver and Boulder passes. “That is significant,” Economic Development Officer Chris Gray points out. “US-36 is a very important highway corridor,” Ms. Grafton adds. And, the road is currently undergoing construction to allow greater traffic flow with less congestion. “Workers will be able to get back and forth from here with ease.”
Even before today’s highways were built, Westminster already straddled an important crossroads, a fact which has defined the city from day one. Always a midpoint between Denver and Boulder, Westminster was once a bustling stage coach stop between the two cities. Then, in 1911, the city was incorporated and its first major industry was focused on apple production. “It has always been an area focused on business development, from stage coaches to apples,” Ms. Grafton points out. “Subsequently we had mushroom farms and dairies. Over the years it has changed – the City has not just been stuck with one industry. And we are still that way today; we have a variety of industries.”
Nearly 3,000 businesses are currently located in Westminster, from small family-owned companies to national and international corporate headquarters. The energy, medical, and high tech fields are particularly well represented. “We have industry clusters in biosciences, software, IT, communications, and now geospatial technologies,” Mr. Gray describes. And the presence of so many leading edge industries continues to draw likeminded enterprises to the area. “There is a magnetic element there,” he explains. “Businesses like to cluster where they know that there will be workforce [available] and where they will be able to work together, share ideas, and have the infrastructure that they need… There is a tremendous amount of innovation energy around here.”
Westminster’s ability to attract high tech fields can originally be traced back to its prime location. “They gravitate here because of that connection with Denver and Boulder,” Mr. Gray explains. Most notably, Boulder is home to the University of Colorado, a nationally renowned research institution. “There is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit along US-36 because of the influence of CU in Boulder,” Ms. Grafton adds. “That is why you see a variety of technology types of businesses, be it bioscience or R&D or software.”
Westminster’s strategic location offers the high tech industry plenty of options. “They can work here, they can work close by in Denver, they can work close by in Boulder,” Mr. Gray explains. Transportation wise, Westminster is often considered a more convenient choice than its larger neighbor; the city is about 25 minutes closer to the airport than Boulder, “and that makes a big difference to technology businesses with a lot of travel needs.” In addition, Westminster has the available land that relocating or expanding businesses need. “We have quite a bit of developable land here, which is a bit unusual for a first ring suburb,” Mr. Gray points out.
Westminster supports a large number of service providers in addition to its tech businesses. “We have a large percentage of our business community that provide business services to other businesses,” says Ms. Grafton. “So as you move into the Westminster area, if you are looking for businesses to help you – be it in advertising, marketing, software, financial services – you are more than likely to find that proximate to you.”
All of Westminster’s businesses, from small service providers to globally recognized corporations, benefit from Westminster’s pro-business policies. “We have a very active business services program where we are reaching out to all of our Westminster businesses no matter what their size is,” Ms. Grafton shares. “One of the things that we are very focused on is the entrepreneurial nature of businesses in this area; working to incubate them, working to grow them, and providing them with the resources that they need, be it training or some sort of grant to help them do some capital investment.”
One recent success is the Tech Connect program, which introduces different businesses within the field to one another. The new initiative was actually driven by the businesses themselves. “We really try to respond to what they say their needs are,” Ms. Grafton explains, “and one of their big needs has been networking.”
The businesses community also benefits from Westminster’s high quality of life, which is classically Coloradan. “We have nationally recognized, award winning recreational facilities,” says Mr. Gray. “We have a much higher than average amount of park and open space. Westminster is situated on a high promontory that overlooks the Boulder valley so the views are incredible. That is a big highlight of the community.”
Well aware of the importance of these assets, Westminster has worked hard to maintain them. “I think that what Westminster has done well is finding that balance between being pro-business and being environmentally sensitive,” Ms. Grafton remarks. In fact, Westminster was the second city in the entire state of Colorado to enact a dedicated sales tax for the preservation of open space. “In the 1980s, Colorado was growing very rapidly and Westminster was getting gobbled up pretty rapidly by developments,” explains Communication Coordinator Katie Harberg. “So our city council and staff took an Open Space and Parks special tax to the voters, and that has been renewed numerous times.” As a result, about a third of Westminster’s land is now preserved green space.
Westminster’s generous green spaces are well connected to trails that lead out of the city and into the surrounding area. “[People] are able to jump on their bicycles and go wherever they want,” Ms. Grafton points out. The region is full of cycling enthusiasts who enjoy the easy access to Front Range and views of stunning mountain passes. In response, the US-36 Bikeway is currently being built; the 18-mile long, 12-foot wide bike lane will run through Westminster all the way to Denver and Boulder and beyond.
The long distance bike lane is only one of many new construction projects dotting the landscape around Westminster. In fact, nearly every section of the city is bustling with new developments. For starters, rail transit to Denver is coming to Westminster in 2016 and the new Westminster Station Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) district near Federal Boulevard and 72nd Avenue is currently being marketed for development. (Once completed, Westminster will be the only city on US-36 between Denver and Boulder with light rail connection to downtown Denver.) “That is going to be a fairly long-term and transformative project,” Mr. Gray reports. The district will encompass 135 acres and include everything from retail to residential, as well as a 40 acre community park.
An even bigger development is taking place at the site where the Westminster Mall once stood. One hundred and five acres are being transformed into a mixed use urban center with approximately 750,000 sf of retail development, 2,000 multi-family units, restaurants, hospitality and urban office space. “It will be a new focal point, our downtown, and will have a lot of different kinds of uses, from retail to residential to office,” Mr. Gray reports. “It is going to have a lot of personality. It will be a game changer here in Westminster as we move forward.” The project, being developed by Oliver McMillan of San Diego California, will begin construction in 2015, with the first phase of space available for tenants in early 2017.
There is also significant development along the I-25 corridor. This stretch of road “is really the major growth corridor in metro Denver right now,” he explains. There are multiple commercial and residential developments underway as well as a sprawling hospital complex. St. Anthony North Medical Campus includes a 350,000 square foot hospital expansion with 60,000 square feet of integrated physician clinics, an ambulatory surgery center, a women’s center with labor / delivery suites, a level III Trauma Center with 24/7 emergency services, 92 inpatient beds and an outpatient diagnostics center. There is also plenty of vacant acreage surrounding the campus that is still available for ancillary development.
Once a stagecoach stop between Boulder and Denver, Westminster still benefits from its central location. The nearby cities have drawn the tech industry into Westminster and the community still acts as a central hub for multiple Colorado destinations. As a result, the local ranch that once hosted overnight travelers has been replaced with a slew of hotels, restaurants, and retail outlets along US-36. “It is interesting that the area continues to be a stop for travelers,” Mr. Gray remarks. “It is still right in the middle of everything.” And Westminster is determined to keep drawing in new businesses, as well as 21st century travelers. “We are always preparing for the future,” states Ms. Grafton. “Each area [of Westminster] is experiencing new development and new growth.”
For more information about projects and development opportunities in Westminster, Colorado please contact the Westminster Economic Development Office at http://www.westminstereconomicdevelopment.org or call 303-658-2108.