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‘Spend locally’ campaign pays off

By Quentin Young
Times-Call News Group

LAFAYETTE — City officials recently announced that the city’s sales-tax revenues through September were up 16 percent over last year during the same period.

Called “the beginning of substantive improvements in our economy,” the figure was attributed to the city’s intense campaign to expand business activity in Lafayette.

“These increases are reflected in businesses throughout the city’s growing economic base and in businesses of every size,” a press release from city officials explained.

The release said small businesses showed a 19 percent gain while the city’s top 30 businesses posted a 14.6 percent increase during the first nine months of the year.

“Lafayette has been for a long time the city left behind,” said Mayor Chris Berry. “This is a direct response to our efforts to do better.”

Last year, Lafayette finance director Bob Hartwig issued a ranking of the metro area’s 33 municipalities based on per-capita sales-tax revenues.

Lafayette came in dead last.

City officials have long complained that Lafayette residents are lured to retailers outside the city’s borders.

In recent years, they have aggressively worked to keep residents spending money in their own city.

Since May 2003, two major grocery store chains, Albertsons and King Soopers, have opened new locations in the city.

City officials offered economic incentives to Ace, which this year opened a Lafayette hardware store, and Vitamin Cottage, which is planning to open a store in the former Eckerd building at Public Road and South Boulder Road.

Berry said Lafayette city administrator Gary Klaphake, the architect of the city’s economic boom, has succeeded in shifting the tides.

“Gary used to spend a lot of time making calls. Now, he spends a lot of time taking calls,” Berry said. “There’s a lot of Front Range cities who’d like to be us right now.”

Vicki Trumbo, executive director of the Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, attributed much of Lafayette’s commercial success to marketing efforts the city funds through Discover Lafayette and Lafayette Community Events, which is behind the Lafayette Wine Festival and the Lafayette Peach Festival.

“I wasn’t surprised. I was excited the smaller businesses were up as much as they were,” Trumbo said. “I think it’s finally our turn. It’s just our time. We have hung in there and attracted businesses.”

The mayors of Lafayette’s neighboring municipalities acknowledge Lafayette’s commercial vigor.

However, they say they have their own economic plans.

“I think it’s very commendable what Lafayette is doing,” said Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk.

But he said some of Lafayette’s economic tactics would not be appropriate in Louisville.

For example, Lafayette officials guaranteed three years of Ace hardware’s 10-year lease.

“We would probably use other economic plums for our developers,” Sisk said.

Under Sisk, Louisville leaders have created a business retention and development group and begun an overhaul of its comprehensive master plan.

Sisk said Louisville’s sales-tax revenues through October are up 5 percent over last year.

“I’m very happy with that number,” he said.

Erie Mayor Andrew Moore said Lafayette’s sales-tax revenues are up partly because of the phenomenon Lafayette’s leaders have battled: sales-tax revenue leakage.

Where Lafayette residents were said to shop outside their own city limits, Erie’s increasing number of residents shop in Lafayette and other communities, Moore said.

But, he added, “That’s a temporary situation.”

He cited a number of potential retail projects, both in the heart of town and along its edges, that will draw Erie shoppers back into the town’s borders.

Moore said this is a natural progression for Front Range communities: population inflates before retail opportunities catch up.