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1/15/2004

LAEC: Jobs on upswing in city

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It might not be worth a parade down Main Street, but then again — after the past couple of years — maybe it is.

The Longmont area experienced a net gain of 26 primary jobs in 2003, the first time since 2000 job creation has been on the positive side, according to numbers released this week by the Longmont Area Economic Council.

Compared with 2002, when 1,058 primary jobs went away, 26 jobs added looks pretty darn good.

“Statistically it’s flat,” John Cody, LAEC president and CEO, told LAEC board members during their first monthly meeting of the year Monday.

Cody described himself as “bullish” for 2004, but reminded the board he doesn’t have a crystal ball.

“The question is, how soon and how much (hiring will occur)?” he said, adding that a big company moving in or a big company leaving would have a big impact on the numbers.

Cody also said prospect activity was up in 2003. Last year, the LAEC worked with 40 new prospective companies, compared with just 26 the previous year.

According to the LAEC, there are currently 232 primary employers in its coverage area, which is geographically equivalent to the St. Vrain Valley School District. Primary jobs are defined as those that produce goods and services here that are sold somewhere else, bringing new money into the community.

Twenty-one companies closed or relocated their operations in 2003, resulting in a loss of 323 jobs. Fifteen new companies opened in the Longmont area, representing 383 new jobs.

Of existing companies, 65 of them added a total of 838 new employees last year, while 56 companies cut back on a total of 872 jobs.

The real estate vacancy rate continues to be an area of concern, Cody said. At the end of 2003, there was 2.45 million square feet on the market for a vacancy rate of 23.2 percent.

The vacancy rate at the end of 2002 was 22.5 percent.

“Our numbers are very close to what metro-wide ‘flex’ rates are,” said Cody.

The LAEC makes no distinction between office and industrial space, referring to all of its commercial space as flex space.

“The one general trend I have seen ... some neighboring communities have been super-aggressive,” Cody said, adding that he had heard of a case in Interlocken where signing a five-year lease would mean the first year’s rent was free.

Such drastic measures haven’t been seen yet in Longmont, and prices have remained relatively stable, said Ken Kanemoto of Prudential LTM Realtors, an LAEC board member.

If the annual absorption rate of 394,000 square feet — seen from 1992 to 2003 — continues, that would mean it would take nearly six years to fill all of the existing vacant space.

“We don’t expect to see any speculative construction any time in the near future,” Cody said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Doug Cole, president and CEO of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, presented the LAEC board with blueprints that showed how the chamber building at 528 Main St. would be revamped to allow the LAEC to have more space.

The building houses the chamber, the LAEC and the Longmont Downtown Development Authority.

The board voted to direct Cody to work with Cole on final plans for the renovation, which must still be approved by the chamber’s board of directors.