Colorado: Energy and Aerospace Lead a Promising Economic Boost
Mali R. Schantz-Feld (Aug/Sep 09)
Although Colorado has "experienced rising unemployment and is feeling the pinch of the national recession across all industries, we have felt it less than in other parts of the country and started to feel it later," says Jeff Holwell, director of business development for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. He says the state's diversified industries - including energy, aerospace, bioscience, information and communications technologies, agriculture, and tourism - "were not the ones that led the nation into the recession, and also are the ones that will lead out of the recession."
House Bill 1001, passed earlier this year, is expected to promote business retention, attraction, and expansion, allowing companies a state income tax credit based on the payroll tax cost they incur from creating at least 20 new jobs in urban areas, or five new jobs in rural areas, and paying wages above the local average. The bill carries some stipulations that vary from the usual state incentives. The company must provide documentation that, if not for this tax incentive, the jobs would not have been created in Colorado. Also, no upfront tax incentives will be received - a company must create and maintain any new job for one full year before becoming eligible to receive this credit.
Another bill, SB-067, the Colorado Credit Reserve Act, managed by the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, will provide loan-loss guaranty to existing banks for loans to small and medium-sized businesses. The program is expected to impact up to 1,000 small businesses and leverage $2.5 million to $50 million in loans.
Some of the brightest development highlights involve energy projects. "Until last summer, the price of energy kept the economy in western Colorado quite robust, but the price of natural gas has dropped nearly two-thirds, and they are feeling the pinch like everybody else," says Holwell. However, some manufacturers are building their hopes on trends toward alternative energy options. Denmark-based wind manufacturer Vestas is building four manufacturing sites, one each in Windsor and Pueblo and two in Brighton. Hexcel Corp., a producer of composite materials used in the production of Vestas' wind turbines, is constructing its first Colorado location in East Windsor.
Siemens Energy Inc. is establishing a U.S. wind turbine R&D competence center in Boulder, focusing on atmospheric science research, aerodynamic blade design, and structural dynamics. Randy Zwirn, president and CEO of the company, says that the proximity of important institutions such as NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab) and the NWTC (National Wind Technology Center), as well as the support received from the state of Colorado and the city of Boulder, are primary reasons for the Centennial State location. Holwell reports that solar energy is also a growth industry, with manufacturing facilities planned from Abound Solar, Ascent Solar, and PrimeStar Solar.
Colorado boasts the second-largest aerospace economy in the country, thanks to more than 300 space-related companies, as well the missile defense and satellite control systems headquartered at Schriever Air Force Base and the Air Force Space Command's headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, both in Colorado Springs. "All of the prime contractors are growing and doing well in Colorado," says Holwell, including industry giants Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, ITT, and Ball Aerospace. Smaller firms such as Braxton Technology in Colorado Springs, Sierra Nevada, and British-based Surrey Satellite Technology US LLC are also developing aerospace-related projects.