Note to City: Keep Companies in Fort Collins

What role should the community have in retaining primary employers? Should the government have a role in trying to keep such employers and should taxpayer money be used?

These kinds of questions are being raised regularly now in Fort Collins. The Great Recession of 2008 had the effect of making businesses reexamine all of their operating assumptions. That includes reviewing their facilities and the costs of operating them in specific locales.

I personally know of four key, longstanding Fort Collins employers that are looking to expand or that we are at risk of losing due to corporate facility consolidations. The Chamber, the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation and the City of Fort Collins are working together to try to keep them here.

Wanting to retain these companies should be a no-brainer, but a few no-growth citizens are worried about the possibility that the city government might offer incentives. Having worked in the chamber / economic development world for three decades, I have seen some states and communities do incentives wrong. But, there is a right way to offer them that is mutually beneficial to the company and the community.

Following is a starter checklist of questions to guide such discussions.

__ Do the economic benefits of this project for the community materially exceed the community’s costs? Are the incentives being offered a give away or is it an investment that will return economic benefits to the community?

__ Is the company in one of the City’s approved target industry clusters? More specifically, are they a primary employer, meaning they bring money into the community from outside the region?

__ If this is an existing company, have they been a good corporate citizen? This is subjective, but asked another way, in the time they have operated here have they brought more benefits than problems to the community?

__ Has the city staff provided a financial / economic benefits analysis? If so, is it conservative?

__ Has the impact on other taxing entities been considered in this proposal?

__ Is taxpayer money at risk? Does the project require an upfront outlay of cash that would be at risk if the company does not perform or is the incentive package self-funding from the economic activity generated by the project?

__ Is it a given that this expansion will take place here without an incentive or does the company have viable alternatives that place these jobs at risk? If even remotely in doubt, do we want to risk the loss of this firm by not showing a willingness to partner with them?

The City of Fort Collins does not have a cohesive, well thought out policy on incentives at this time. In light of current developments, it is long overdue to develop one. In the meantime, questions like those listed above can guide the conversation in a constructive manner.