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12/28/2003

’03: Looking long-term

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It’s been a good year for the Longmont Area Economic Council. Good being a relative term, but good, nonetheless.

When final numbers are announced next month, it’s likely that the number of primary jobs lost or gained in 2003 will be “mostly flat,” according to John Cody, president and CEO of the LAEC.

“There are many ways to look at it,” Cody said. “In the most positive light, it’s 1,000 times better than last year. But it’s still not the primary-job growth we’d want to see.”

The numbers are much more appealing than what we have seen the past couple of years. In 2002, 1,058 primary jobs were lost in the LAEC’s coverage area, which is the geographical equivalent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, meaning the Tri-Towns area and their business parks are included.

In 2001, 2,116 primary jobs went bye-bye. So breaking even has to look pretty good.

“Activity has been up significantly,” Cody said, adding that the LAEC received about 65 percent more contacts this year, compared to last, from companies actively looking for sites to relocate or expand.

But again, it’s all relative.

“The caveat, of course, is that 2002 numbers were way down,” Cody said.

Although they may differ on particulars, just about every economist out there is saying that the economic recovery is real. The qualifier is that so far, that has not translated into jobs — at least not the kind of jobs in which Cody and his group are interested.

Primary jobs produce goods and services here that are sold elsewhere, bringing new money into the community. It’s also said that every single primary job helps fuel two to three additional non-primary jobs, such as those in retail.

Cody said he thinks things are poised to break loose — primary-job-wise — in the coming year.

“I think productivity has reached its limit, and at the same time, business spending is way up,” Cody said. “So, business investment has returned, and productivity has reached its limit. And I think that will translate to more jobs in 2004, certainly in the Longmont area.”

But the best news of all for the LAEC this year? Cody said it’s that City Council granted his “three wishes.”

In 2003, the Longmont City Council:

• Approved Amgen’s plans to eventually build out its entire 230 acres over the next 30 years, building up to 5 million square feet and adding up to 5,000 more employees to its current 550.

• Granted approval to Xilinx to expand its campus, adding eight new buildings of varying sizes, including one 149,000-square-foot building. The Planning and Zoning Commission had given a thumbs-down to the project because of building-height restrictions, but the council was persuaded by Xilinx’s plans and overturned P&Z;’s decision.

• Annexed the 156-acre Huff property, located just southwest of the Vance Brand Municipal Airport and north of Seagate Technology.

“I think what these three projects say is that Longmont has demonstrated an interest in preserving long-term primary job opportunities, and that’s a very important message,” Cody said.

Mayor Julia Pirnack said that in the case of Amgen and Xilinx, approving their plans for the future was a win-win for both the city and the two major employers.

“It allows them to have some level of certainty about their planning strategy,” Pirnack said. “If you’ve got companies that are coming to you with a building plan, it’s a lot better than sitting there wondering what they’re going to be doing in two, three or five years.”

In the biopharmaceutical world, it takes such a long time to bring a drug to market that planning very far in advance is imperative. Amgen’s plans call for the company’s property rights to be vested, meaning the company will be exempt from being affected by any future changes in the city’s comprehensive plan.

In exchange, the city has put milestone clauses in the contract that penalize the company financially if it doesn’t meet certain timelines regarding buildout.

For example, after nine years, if Amgen hasn’t yet reached 1.7 million square feet, the company will have to pay the city $1 million. Further milestones are in the contract as well.

Originally, Amgen bought 70 acres for its Longmont operations, but when the city annexed an adjacent 160 acres, the company snatched that land up for future development. The Thousand Oaks, Calif.,-based company obviously likes it here.

“Seventy acres would be a considerable property development all by itself, but it became a lot bigger,” said Brad Schol, planning director for the city. “They were very thorough and detailed about their advance preparation, and also with the quality of development and materials they brought into the project.”

Xilinx is another company that pays a lot of attention to detail. The San Jose, Calif.-based computer-chip maker’s building on south Fordham Street, near the Diagonal Highway, has even won an award for the design of its $32 million, 133,500-square-foot Longmont headquarters.

“The one thing that we heard from the Amgen and Xilinx people was that they thought the kind of people they were trying to retain would really identify with the quality of life in Longmont and this part of Boulder County,” Schol said.

Xilinx currently employs about 300 people in Longmont, and has plans to expand its operations in two phases, adding an additional 68 acres to its current 33. No firm timeline has been established for the expansion, according to company officials.

“What we try to do is balance our competitiveness from a global perspective, and we also try to put anchor facilities where the talent exists,” said Kenn Perry, managing director of the Longmont facility.

Perry has been with Xilinx for 11 years, joining the company when it acquired his previous employer, NeoCAD. Before that acquisition, Perry said Xilinx only had a small sales office locally.

“I think there were thoughts in the background that (company officials) always wanted to come to Colorado,” he said.

The Xilinx campus includes bike and walking paths and a significant amount of open space, and those elements already have been incorporated into the company’s future plans, Perry said, adding that the look of its buildings is distinct to its Rocky Mountain location.

“If you go to the facility in San Jose, it kind of looks like San Jose, and if you go to the site in Dublin (Ireland) it looks like Dublin,” Perry said.

Given the care that Xilinx puts into the design of its buildings and its campus, City Council had little trouble approving the company’s plans for expansion.

The height extensions, for example, will be off-set by planned underground parking.

“The broader issues that the council looks at are, ‘What are the trade-offs?’” Pirnack said. “We’re really in a position to look at the broader picture — to look at the overall economic benefit.

“I think that with both (Amgen and Xilinx), one of the things that’s heartening is that both appear to be very committed to the community.”

The fact that their respective industries are relatively clean industries that pay, on average, very well, makes them enormously attractive companies, Cody said.

“These are the kinds of companies any community wants to see build,” Cody said. “I told City Council that these are the kinds of companies people in my industry dream about.”

City planners will tell you that they would like to spread the primary jobs base out a little bit, but that’s not what the primary employers tend to want. When they see Seagate, Amgen, Xilinx and the like locating in a certain part of the city, other big companies want to be there, too.

Hence, the decision to annex the Huff property.

“It’s not suitable for residential because of its proximity to the airport,” Pirnack said. “It seemed like a real natural place to put that type of thing.

“It’s a great site for economic development. It’s a very appealing site for folks that are looking to do that large of a campus.

“Another thing people ask, is ‘Why are we doing this now?’ When companies are looking at a community, they want the land ready to go.”

In another words, it’s more ammunition Cody’s group can use to show companies that Longmont is committed to its primary job base for the long haul.

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