Sunday, March 27, 2011

Loveland amps up efforts to bring jobs

Written by
Loveland Connection

News of layoffs at Loveland-based companies isn't surprising in this economy, but lately, neither is news of businesses expanding or moving in.

The general consensus in Loveland is that the economy is not where it once was and it will take time to bring it fully out of a recession. But there also is a feeling of hope -- the net number of jobs in Loveland has gone up in the past few years and the city's focus on economic development has stimulated companies into hiring and expanding.

Meanwhile, Loveland's new emphasis on boosting the art business and its continued focus on bridging the art-science gap are pushing the city upward.

"People are feeling at least as if the bottom is done and we are now moving and ready to move forward," said Loveland Chamber of Commerce CEO Brian Willms.

According to unemployment numbers for January, Loveland's unemployment was up slightly from December 2010 but was better than January 2010.

Willms said Loveland saw a net gain in jobs last year.

Several local companies increased their staffs by significant amounts, despite the fact that others, like Group Publishing, have had to lay off employees to remain economically viable.

Part of the increase in jobs is due to the city's efforts during the past several years to invest in local companies needing a bit of a boost.

Mayor Cecil Gutierrez said Wednesday during a public forum on the city's economic strategy that hundreds of jobs, in addition to increases in property and sales-tax revenue, have been brought to the city because of the city's stimulus efforts.

Crop Production Services and Agrium Advanced Technology, both Agrium Inc. companies that moved some operations to Loveland from Greeley in 2009, have stimulated the local economy, Gutierrez said.

City help with a lease payment and cash incentives enabled the Agrium companies to create 47 new jobs in 2009, and the company's overall employee count has gone to more than 500, Gutierrez said.

"They basically doubled a lot of those numbers out there," he said.

The Orthopedic Center received a three-year capital expansion fee deferment as part of the city's economic development policy.

Gutierrez said companies such as the relatively new Orthopedic Center of the Rockies not only hired 10 new employees in 2010, but also pays $184,000 a year in property taxes, funding things such as Thompson School District.

That medical enterprise prompted another to come to the area, as well. The Urology Center of the Rockies is now under construction on Eisenhower Boulevard.
"When you have one business that shows up in a place, there's a synergy, and it helps grow more businesses that way," Gutierrez said.

The Aerospace and Clean Energy technology park proposed at the Agilent site was another enterprise discussed at the mayor’s meeting. If the city’s bid is accepted by the Colorado Association of Manufacturing and Technology, it could create up to 10,000 jobs in Loveland over several years.

The city and other finalists are expecting a decision on where the park will be built along the Front Range any day.

City Manager Bill Cahill said during the forum that he thinks Loveland and its proposal remains "one of the few" finalists in the competition.

But if that doesn’t happen, the five remaining developers who submitted proposals to the city regarding the site say they’re still committed to redeveloping it.
A family successSome Loveland companies have thrived and pulled away from the recession on their own.

Schlosser Signs Inc. is a family-owned company that designs, manufactures and installs signs all over Colorado and into Wyoming, Nebraska and New Mexico.

Willms said the company is an example of good things happening in the economy.

The company, with seven Schlossers on the 19-person staff, was founded in 1999.
Schlosser's, which installs electronic signs, usually during a company's construction phase, has seen an uptick in business in the first quarter of this year, which could indicate economic improvement in the construction industry, said Rose Schlosser, business marketing manager.

"We've been doing better than we expected for the first quarter of this year," she said. "It's normally a slow time for us historically."

The company is seeing "a lot of activity" in the construction industry right now, Schlosser said.

Carla Schlosser, co-owner and CEO, said 2010 was a slow, painful year, as it was for everyone, but the company came out ahead of its 2009 numbers and hired three new employees at the end of the year. Additionally, the company didn't have any layoffs during the worst part of the recession.

"We have had more (business)," Carla Schlosser said, referring to the first part of 2011, "definitely, substantially more than in 2009 and better than 2010. It's definitely on the rise."

Rico Venegas, 35, is one of Schlosser’s new hires. He was laid off in 2009 from Gardner Signs, where he was the lead sign installer. He looked for work in drywall and metal framing but had no luck finding work in the local market. He was out of work for a year before being hired by Schlosser.
Some companies strugglingWhile some companies have hired new employees, others have had to face layoffs.

In mid-January, Group Publishing laid off 26 of its 289 employees as part of a companywide restructuring effort.

The change combined parts of the company that were reaching out to the same customers, Group officials said in January.

Group was established in 1974 and creates resources, training, mission and management tools for churches nationwide.

Separation packages were given to the 26 employees, and Group established a contract with Career Builders, a company that helps people between jobs, said the company's president, Rocky Gilmore.

Willms said just after the layoffs that although the country's economic turmoil has calmed a bit, companies aren't totally out of the storm yet.

"No one's really immune to this environment," he said. "I think they did what they needed to do to manage the situation. I'm sure it was a difficult decision."

Willms said he had no doubt the company would continue to succeed as one of the city's larger employers.

Earlier this month, Schmidt's Bakery in Loveland closed its Greeley store due to company restructuring. A couple of the store's five employees took jobs at the main Loveland store, owner Harry Schmidt said.

A few days later, the bakery was shut down because of $21,000 in taxes it owed to the state of Colorado.

Once paid, the bakery was again open for business and Schmidt said he didn't plan on laying anyone off.

Art and businessLoveland is known as an arts town, but some think not enough is being done to promote and grow the business side of the city's arts community.

In an effort to invigorate the city's arts businesses, Loveland created the office of creative sector development, headed by Marcie Erion and guided by a volunteer, seven-member advisory board.

"We want to identify, from the bottom and moving up, what we need for folks we've already got and get a really good as-sessment of where we sit in our business services," Erion said.

Enhancing the power of events such as Loveland's annual art and sculpture show is an example of something Erion might begin working on.

Additionally, when Artspace, a development of affordable spaces for artists to live, work and showcase, comes to Love-land, Erion's office could work with the organization to increase its ability to succeed economically.

Gutierrez said during Wednesday’s economic forum that 8 percent of the city's work force are in arts-related fields.

The new office will aid businesses such as foundries and publishing houses, he said.

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