The Northern Colorado Economic Alliance (NCEA) focuses on outbound marketing for the attraction of primary employers to Larimer and Weld Counties located 50 miles north of Denver. Within its local municipalities, it works on business expansions and relocations by marketing the region to those companies. It is located along what is called the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. This urban corridor stretches north along the foothills of the Rockies and Interstate 25 from Pueblo through Denver to the Northern Colorado region.
Previously, there was a formal organization called the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation that only served Larimer County, until a decision was made by the private sector to create a regional marketing organization to include Weld County covering the entire Northern Colorado region. Prominent business executives in Northern Colorado formed the privately owned 501(c)(6) corporation with the goal of attracting and stimulating relevant economic opportunity and job growth for the region. NCEA works closely with its local municipalities and strategic partners to aggressively market the region and provide free confidential assistance to companies seeking to relocate or expand their business from other parts of the country.
The population within the two counties is approximately 650,000 with a projected population of one million for 2035. Larimer and Weld Counties are the fourth- and sixth-fastest growing metropolitan statistical areas in the country. The population growth is fueled by job growth in Northern Colorado due to its highly educated workforce and growing technology and entrepreneurship sectors. It currently holds up to 280,000 jobs, and the projected number of positions by 2035 is 500,000. Within a fifty-five minute drive of the counties, the labor shed is approximately 1.5 million people, as it can easily pull employees from the Denver Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The region attracts a significant number of new, young residents. “We have a very young population because our growth is driven by in-migration. Our in-migration is larger than our natural growth, meaning that more people are moving here than are being born. Many young people will move here without a job due to the attractiveness of our quality of life,” says Michael Masciola, the Vice President of Business Development at the NCEA.
The average age of the population in the area is 32.6, and the residents are greatly educated; over thirty-six percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. These numbers are driven by a few factors including the two major universities in the area: Colorado State University in Fort Collins with 34,000 students and University of Northern Colorado in Greeley with 15,000 students.
About seventy percent of the students who graduate from Colorado State University stay either in Larimer County, Weld County or the Denver Metropolitan Statistical Area. “We get to retain a lot of our young graduates because they enjoy the area so much and are willing to stay and work for about ten percent less than what they could earn in other parts of the country,” says Michael.
The unemployment rate is quite low, at 1.9 percent, which is great for the community, yet it can be a bit of a challenge for companies concerned about developing a workforce for their business. However, the region’s overall population is able to help overcome this workforce dilemma for the companies in the area. “Since graduates are willing to stay in the area and our highly educated labor pool creates underemployed workers, it is less difficult for regional businesses to hire employees,” says Michael. “It can be rare to hear of companies having significant trouble getting labor here.”
The only exception to that rule is the deficit in the trades, which is a nationwide problem. “There is a greying of the trades in welding, carpentry, and others. Trades are losing workers due to retirements and [there are] fewer young people to backfill the jobs. People over the past many decades went to college and less to trade schools and apprenticeships, creating this vacuum,” says Michael. The NCEA and its partners are attempting to manage this issue with training opportunities through its community colleges. The colleges offer training programs and certifications in all of the trades and design programs for specific companies when needed.
Another aspect that attracts young, environmentally-aware individuals to the area is the well-developed renewable energy sector. Vestas Blades holds the third-largest market share in the world for wind turbines and is the only global energy company dedicated exclusively to wind energy. In the region’s Town of Windsor, Vestas Blades manufactures blades that can be anywhere from one hundred to three hundred feet long. The head of the turbines are manufactured in the Denver area, and the poles are manufactured further south, in Pueblo, Colorado.
Colorado State University has a division that focuses specifically on renewable energy research called the Colorado State University Powerhouse Energy Institute Campus. It looks at how to develop renewable energy in many ways. The Institute has helped one company who produces clean energy from growing algae. Another has developed solutions for the manufacturing and distribution of clean cookstoves in the developing world.
The healthcare and wellness sector is one of the biggest employers in the area. The Medical Center of the Rockies specializes in cardiac and trauma care, and the UC Health Cancer Center does great work for cancer patients. In another energy industry, the traditional fossil fuel sector has significant employers. “We are by far the largest gas producing region in the state in fossil fuels,” says Michael. Weld County is the number one producer of oil and gas in the state with 89 percent of all crude oil production and 1/3 of all natural gas production in Colorado.
Weld County leads the state in agriculture production export jobs. The food processing companies Lepino, which makes mozzarella cheese, and JB Swift, which provides beef, are both headquartered in Weld County. “Information technology and analysis is a large industry here; we have about nine thousand jobs in that sector. HP is located here, as well as Intel, Broadcom and Kodak,” says Michael.
Sculpting and art are popular in the area. Every year in Loveland, an international outdoor juried sculpture exhibition is held, showcasing over 2,000 pieces of sculpture created by 160 sculptors and with attendees from around the world.
For entertainment, the two counties have minor league sports teams the Colorado Eagles – a hockey team for the Colorado Avalanche – and Colorado Crush of the Indoor Football League.
The area receives quite a bit of tourism. The Rocky Mountain National Park in Larimer County is the second most visited national park in the country. Estes Park is a town that is known as the base for the Rocky Mountain National Park and designated the best small town to visit by Smithsonian.com. The city also welcomes film-loving tourists and production companies as it is the home of the Stanley Hotel that was used for Stephen King’s movie, The Shining.
Larimer and Weld County have the highest number of microbreweries per capita in the country. There are thirty-three in total, including a Budweiser brewery. Completely employee-owned New Belgium Brewery is the fourth-largest craft microbrewery in the country and is known for its brand Fat Tire Belgian Style Ale.
There is a culture of innovation, creativity and growth in the region. “Innovation is strong here. We have one of the highest patents per capita in the United States, and that comes out of the universities and our entrepreneurs. We have a very successful high-technology incubator growing at a significant pace.” The bioscience sector has nine federal labs including the Center for Disease Control, making for significant research and development in the area. Heska Corporation provides advanced veterinary diagnostic and other specialty veterinary products. NoCoBio brings together the region’s bioscience scientists, physicians, leading innovators, and executive advisors working together to maximize the industry’s impact worldwide.
The region is well-situated, being one hour away from the Denver International Airport. The area also has two regional airports and is forty miles from Interstate 70 to the south and Interstate 80 that runs through Wyoming. The area has a strong rail presence and is conveniently accessible by multiples modes of transportation, which is a great incentive for businesses.
The Northern Colorado Economic Alliance continues to assist with the development of business and population growth through creative solutions. The region has some of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, which is not surprising considering the excellent quality of life in the area.
Northern Colorado features a mixture of communities that have unique character, and one particularly interesting example of this individuality is present in Loveland. Given its name, the city of Loveland, in Larimer County, allows senders from all over the world to mail Valentine’s Day cards there first, to be stamped with ‘Loveland, The Sweetheart City; before being forwarded to the recipient.