I was just driving down Main Street in Windsor, Colorado yesterday, and the change (for the good!) popped out at me everywhere. Not only are there the fantastic eateries like Hearth, the Windsor Mill Tavern, Salathai, and PizzaVino, there is the obvious presence of industry-Vestas Windpower, Snaptron, and Owens Illinois and the ancillary businesses, equipment, and traffic that comes with that.
Pat Ferrier, one of our local reporters for the Fort Collins Coloradoan, recently wrote this article about Windsor, and how they got to where they are today-fascinating read! Enjoy...
Windsor Shows Big Return on Investments
by Pat Ferrier Fort Collins Coloradoan | USA TODAY NETWORK
WINDSOR — For much of its history, Windsor was a town of two industries.
Its agrarian roots put many to work in the town’s flour mill and sugar beet processing plant in the1800s and1900s.
When the beet plant closed in 1967, Windsor was still a small town of about 1,500 residents. It stayed that way until Kodak Colorado opened in the early 1970s, triggering a dramatic rise in population.
With Kodak, Windsor became a company town employing hundreds who made their living at the plant on its eastern edge.
But as the digital revolution made film largely obsolete, Kodak shrank both its workforce and physical presence in Windsor, although Kodak Alaris still employs a few hundred workers here.
Patrons visit Peculier Ales craft brewery at The Windsor Mill in Windsor on April 14. PHOTOS BY BETHANY BAKER / THE COLORADOAN
The town faced a challenge: Diversify or plunge over the economic cliff with Kodak. It chose the former.
By 2003, the town began looking at ways to give itself an edge when it came to attracting new employers: tax rebates, fee waivers, sales tax sharebacks. With that, the town’s era of economic incentives was born.
Large and small companies came.
New homes followed.
Windsor’s population exploded from 5,000 in 1990 to nearly 37,000 in 2020, making it one of Colorado’s fastestgrowing communities. That’s led to more retail, more industry and more businesses seeking Windsor as their corporate address.
And over the decades, Windsor built a reputation as a business-friendly community. It created an economic development office to put together incentive packages and support businesses any way it could.
The effort has paid off big with investments.
From 2003 through 2020, Windsor provided nearly $11 million in various economic incentives including fee waivers, property tax rebates, sales tax sharebacks and, in some cases, land. In return, the companies benefiting from the incentives invested about $640 million in building or renovating their plants and buying equipment. They created about 1,900 new jobs and kept another 1,140 in town, according to the city’s economic development office.
The two largest packages in the town’s history: nearly $4 million to Blue Ocean Enterprises to renovate the Windsor Mill and $3.5 million in land for what is now the Future Legends Sports Complex.
But perhaps the most transformative package of all was the $617,964 in incentives provided to Vestas Blades America in 2007 and 2018.
Vestas brought a new industry to Windsor, and it invested nearly $109 million in buildings and equipment while providing more than 1,000 primary jobs.
Stacy Miller, Windsor’s economic development director, believes $57,930 in economic incentives for Vestas to add new blade technology lines in 2018 are a key reason the wind turbine blade manufacturer consolidated some of its Brighton workers to Windsor in February, bringing 100-plus new jobs to town.
The town offered a 50% rebate on personal property taxes paid on the new equipment. The rebate, the second of two incentive packages offered to the company, led to a $27 million investment in the plant.
The town wasn’t out any money or in the hole if the project didn’t happen, Miller said. “We were just sharing the wealth.”
If you look at Vestas’ history in Northern Colorado, the region has “benefited miles above any incentives ever offered,” said Rich Werner, executive director of Greeley-based Upstate Colorado, an economic development group that works with communities in Weld and Larimer counties.
It’s hard to say definitively what’s driven Windsor’s economic growth: Whether it’s the town’s businessfriendly attitude, the incentives it has offered, its central location to a robust workforce in Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland, available land or a combination of all.
Vestas officials declined an interview seeking comment for this story, so it’s hard to know if the Danish manufacturer would have opened its 360,000square-foot plant with or without incentives. Maybe. “Incentives may be part of the process, but it’s not typically the determining factor,” Werner said. “It may help the balance sheet ... but companies deciding on locations (look at) available sites, the cost of doing business and the talent they have access to. Incentives are down the line in the process. If other things aren’t there, they’re not coming.”
It’s safe to say Windsor Mill would likely still be a pile of rubble on the east edge of town without the massive economic incentives offered by the town and the Windsor Downtown Development Authority.
Steve Schroyer, former director of real estate for mill owner Blue Ocean Enterprises, has said in previous interviews the historic building — destroyed by the 2008 tornado that devastated Windsor — sat empty for years because of the steep costs of redeveloping it.
The mill is now home to Peculier Ales craft brewery, Cacciatore Italian restaurant, a wedding venue and Windsor Tavern, in which Schroyer is part owner.
As Blue Ocean’s director of real estate, Schroyer helped negotiate the incentives package with the town.
Blue Ocean purchased the building in late 2016 and secured the $3.7 million incentives package from the town including fee waivers, cash investments and shared tax revenue.
The agreement, modified after the 2017 fire that further damaged the mill, got back on track with a combined $155,260 from the town for public capital improvements and from the Windsor DDA for facade improvements.
The mill, which reopened in 2019, has done exactly what the town hoped it would: serve as an economic driver and a catalyst for further development on the east side of Windsor, Schroyer has said.
“As owner of the tavern, I believe this whole entertainment complex definitely increased traffic and brought people to the core of downtown Windsor,” he said.
Town puts focus on primary employers
In 2011, Windsor hired a consultant to help its economic development task force. One of its key recommendations was to create an economic development office and hire an economic development director that would have three priorities: attract and retain primary employment, attract and retain retail, and be an ombudsman on behalf of all businesses as they went through the municipal planning process.
Those priorities remain in place a decade later, Miller, the town’s economic development director, said. “Basically those are foundational items that would make any economic development organization succeed,” she said.
Her office, in conjunction with the town board and administrators, have followed that path and consciously worked to diversify the industry base “so we don’t have another Kodak effect or HP effect,” Miller said.
Banking on one large employer that falls on hard times can “devastate a community,” she said.
The town doesn’t provide incentives to anyone who asks, Miller said. It looks for diversity among industries and primary employers who export 50% of their goods and services outside Larimer and Weld counties, typically pay higher than the county average wage, provide employee benefits and bring in outside money through their exports.
“Because retailers are so unique, incentives are granted on a case-by-basis,” Miller said. “Costco will be different than Chick-fil-A or an In-N-Out Burger. If we already have McDonald’s we won’t incentivize another McDonald’s.”
Windsor provided nearly $15,000 to help the Hearth Restaurant and Pub get off the ground in 2015 as it worked to attract restaurants to downtown.
It was a relatively small sum, “but helped us keep money in our startup budget elsewhere,” said owner Jason Shaeffer. Town incentives coupled with DDA money “helped us tremendously.”
The Hearth more than made up that investment in sales tax revenue within about six months, and provided about 35 jobs, Shaeffer said. Incentives offered, he said, were the town’s way of saying “we want to be a part of helping you succeed and we’ll take this portion or burden off your hands.”
Incentives offered to retailers like restaurants have more to do with plugging sales tax leakage to neighboring towns compared to primary employers, which bring in money from the outside.
Wind turbines made in Windsor, for example, are sold throughout the world. That’s new money coming in to pay Vestas employees, pay for new equipment, buildings and taxes. That’s money that is then spread throughout the town and Northern Colorado.
Calling Windsor a “golden gem,” Miller said the town has an ample supply of industrial and development parks that provide opportunities and a town government that is all on the same page to make projects happen.
When granting incentives, Miller said the “sweet spot” is companies with between 25 and 50 employees that are “willing to make an investment in the community” and preferably build their own buildings.
The 31 companies that have won incentives from the town generate an annual payroll of nearly $80 million, with an average wage of about $60,000, according to town data.
‘Incentives are the worm’
Incentives are just one part of the economic equation, Werner said. “The return on investment is important,” but just as important is community buy-in and community partnerships.
“In a lot of instances, it’s not necessarily the amount but the fact that incentives are offered and the community is looking to integrate this company into its municipality,” he said. “Being able to have that tool in the toolbox is inherently valuable to a community.”
Beyond the financial boost incentives give to projects, they show a developer the town appreciates and respects business, said Martin Lind, developer of RainDance, Water Valley and The Summit in Windsor.
“It’s very hard to be in business right now,” Lind said. “Any help is considered gracious and whether it’s moral support or financial support, any type of help gives a retailer or business owner morale adrenaline.”
Lind’s project The Summit received $642,641 to help build infrastructure at The Summit and 7-Eleven on Windsor’s corner of Crossroads Boulevard and Fairgrounds Avenue.
He owned land on three corners, two of which were in Loveland and one in Windsor.
Windsor’s corner was raw, no utilities, no grading. “It was not shovel ready,” said Miller. The incentive package to help pay for roads, water and sewer helped “three additional lots open up for development” at Crossroads and Fairgrounds, she said.
The incentives weren’t significant enough to sway his decision but helped level the playing field between the Windsor and Loveland sites, Lind said.
The $17 million project, the first in Lind’s Brands East development, excelled. It repaid the town’s investment in less than three years, a year sooner than required. Now the corner is home to Fuzzy’s Tacos, Brands Beverage liquor store, Arby’s, Taco Bell and a hotel generating sales, along with property and lodging taxes for the town.
Other projects on Lind’s property also benefited from incentives. Colorado Cherry Co., now Ted’s Sweetwater Grill, and SpringHill hotel received nearly $14,000 and $182,440 respectively.
Like Werner, Lind said incentives aren’t enough to bring a project to town.
“I firmly believe that you can never under any circumstance incentivize anyone into a bad location,” he said.
“Location is critical and Windsor has a fabulous central location,” Lind said. “Kodak saw it in the ‘60s. If they put a giant factory in Windsor, they could attract from three major cities.”
Being a business-friendly community is of equal, if not greater importance than incentives, Lind said. “Fairly expediting projects through the system and having staff support is a big thing,” he said. “Incentives are the worm, staff support and community support is the hook.”
To land extraordinary projects, communities will have to incentivize, he said. “Normal lending models don’t work on extraordinary. Someone has to take a giant amount of risk and incentives shave off just a little bit of that risk.”
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com.
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