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9/26/2004

Changing its orbit

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Three years to the month after the successful launch of its QuickBird satellite, DigitalGlobe will move into its new headquarters, preparing to send more birds into space.

The satellite imagery company announced in March that it was relocating to 1601 Dry Creek Drive — inside the Boulder County Business Center, the same building that houses Intrado.

The move will be complete by next month, company officials said.

“We looked at approximately 20 properties in the Longmont area as well as along the (Colo. Highway) 36 corridor. Those were the areas we focused on,” said Lee Melvin, the company’s director of facility and security services.

With the help of a corporate real estate consulting company, Cresa Partners, the search was narrowed to three facilities before settling on the business center.

“The space, when we first started, was completely empty,” Melvin said. “We started with four walls, a floor and a ceiling. We had a big slab to carve up however we needed to.”

DigitalGlobe will occupy 185,266 square feet — doubling the size of its location on Pike Road — with Intrado occupying most of the rest of the 550,000-square-foot building.

So far, about one-third of DigitalGlobe has moved into the new space. The company’s operations are located on the bottom level of the building, and the ground floor will be taken up by executives’ offices and cubicles.

The privately held company currently employs about 400 people, including individual contractors. The 300 still working at the old facility will be moved in early October.

“We have room in this building to accommodate between 550 and 600 people, as it’s currently configured,” Melvin said. “In the old building, what we found is when we’d hire a new employee, we might have to move five or six employees to accommodate that person.”

DigitalGlobe now has room to expand more than just its work force.

“Part of the business plan as we move forward has always been to have a constellation of satellites,” said company spokesman Chuck Herring.

The QuickBird currently in orbit is actually the company’s second. The first QuickBird, launched in November 2000, crashed into the ocean after failing to reach orbit.

DigitalGlobe touts the QuickBird’s 60-centimeter resolution as the best available commercially.

Clients recently signing on to buy the company’s space imagery include the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Olympic Games.

The company’s contract with the NGIA is worth $500 million.

Herring said the QuickBird is expected to be productive until 2009.

Meanwhile, the company has announced plans to put a second bird into orbit: the WorldView, which will be launched in 2006.

It, like the QuickBird, is being built by Ball Aerospace.

“The mission control, as it is now, is set up to fly up to three satellites,” Melvin said.

The mission control room in the new building is at least five times the size of what the company had on Pike Road. There is plenty of extra space and equipment to accommodate growth and training.

Racks of computer servers and other equipment are set up in the company’s 10,000-square-foot data center.

The room was specially designed with a 24-inch raised floor to allow for the installation of a cooling system, while all the power and computer cables come down from the ceiling, allowing for the easy installation or upgrading of equipment.

“I think at the end of the year, we probably won’t even be 50 percent capacity in here,” said Brian Moore, the company’s network manager. “We’ve designed a lot of growth into this room.”

Melvin said everything involved in the production of DigitalGlobe’s product is now working out of the new building — a remarkable move that was done in one weekend.

The company’s move has been particularly aggressive, considering it started looking for a new location only in January and began construction on the new space only in May.

“It’s kind of our culture now — it’s really to set aggressive schedules and then meet those schedules,” said Herring, noting that the QuickBird was launched less than a year after its predecessor failed.

News that the company was staying in Longmont was music to the ears of John Cody, president and CEO of the Longmont Area Economic Council.

“It’s the best of both worlds — they found the type of facility they wanted at the price they wanted, and in a community they wanted to be in,” said Cody.

Given the vacancy rate of commercial space in the area, Cody said he knows the company had plenty of options.

“I will tell you without question that the real estate market is such that there are many deals to be had, and many of those deals are not in Longmont,” said Cody. “What they told me was their preference was to stay in Longmont if they could.”

DigitalGlobe’s lease in the new building is for 11 years for a reported $22 million. It’s believed to be the second-largest lease in Boulder County history.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.