The Loveland Business Partnership (LBP) has been shaping Loveland business for more than 60 years.
Faced with hard financial times in the late 1950’s, a small group of business leaders joined forces to improve the town’s economy by attracting new businesses. The centerpiece of their plan was the creation of a “Loveland Development Fund” (LDF) which was used to purchase property and provide incentives to potential companies looking for a new home. An aggressive community-wide campaign to raise money for this fund was successful in raising nearly $100,000, a sizeable amount for the time. The funds were used to purchase land for industrial development. Despite some early setbacks, those business leaders began to achieve some successes, managing to bring companies like Johnson Publishing, ABC Coach Company and Scientific Electronics to a newly created industrial zone on the western edge of the City.
A Major Achievement
A major achievement of this group was the attraction of the Hewlett Packard Company to the City. In 1962, HP moved into a new plant, its first facility outside of California, on a site purchased by the Loveland Development Fund. Over the next several decades, HP expanded its facilities in Loveland and constructed several other facilities in Northern Colorado, establishing Loveland as the center of the “high tech” industry in Colorado. HP grew significantly throughout the seventies and eighties, eventually employing several thousand people in more than 800,000 square feet of manufacturing space in Loveland, Unfortunately, the tide turned for HP in the nineties. The company incrementally downsized its operations in Loveland, eventually vacating the Loveland campus. Although the loss of jobs was a blow to the local economy, the presence of HP transformed our economy from agriculture and tourism to an economy based on technology and manufacturing. Loveland had now become a competitor in the global economy.
1970 – 1980
Throughout the seventies and eighties, the economic development efforts of the community took on a number of different forms and names. During this period, The Chamber of Commerce, the City of Loveland and numerous members of the business and financial community collaborated to continue the job creation efforts started in the fifties. A new entity, the Loveland Economic Development Council (EDC), was formed in the mid-eighties to promote “industrial development” in the City and to act as a liaison with Loveland City government. Because of the perceived overlap between the objectives of the EDC and the LDF, the LDF assumed a role as a support and funding source for the EDC. This was a period of intensifying competition among cities throughout the country for new businesses. Large financial incentives, funded by governmental entities became common. Both private and governmental groups began hiring full-time professionals to carry attract and retain businesses.
The Late ’90s
During the late nineties, individual development groups and cities in Northern Colorado began to realize that regional cooperation was essential to being competitive on a national basis. The Northern Colorado Economic Corporation (NCEDC) was formed in 2001 through a merger of the Fort Collins Economic Development Corporation and the EDC. The NCEDC represented the Larimer County communities of Berthoud, Estes Park, Fort Collins, Johnstown, Loveland, Timnath, Wellington and Windsor in the national economic arena. In May of 2002, the City of Loveland hired its first full-time Business Development Manager, Donna Smith. In 2006 she was succeeded by Betsey Hale, under whose management, the City’s economic development activities were consolidated and elevated to the status of a Department under the City government with a staff of several people.
The Future of the Organization
In early 2004, the Board of Directors of the LDF met to discuss the future of the organization. The general consensus of that meeting was that the NCEDC and the City-funded EDC had assumed the mission formerly undertaken by the LDF, and that the Board should consider dissolution of the fund and distribution of its assets. In September of 2005, the Board approved a resolution to dissolve the Fund and transfer the assets to the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado, with the provision that those funds be utilized only in the Loveland Community consistent with the By-laws of the LDF, and as authorized by Loveland representatives of the NCEDC Board of Directors.
After the dissolution of the LDF, participation by Loveland’s business community in economic development matters declined. Although the reasons for this lack of participation during the post-2005 era are not entirely known, the most likely explanation is that most of the responsibility for economic development had been assumed by the City of Loveland, the NCEDC and their professional staff. The retreat of the business community from involvement in active business attraction and retention continued for the following six years.
Involvement of the business community was re-kindled in 2011. The City of Loveland initiated the development of an “Economic Development Strategic Plan” and recruited eight community business leaders to join with City staff in the effort. After a 12-week period of study, discussion, and writing, this stakeholder group produced an 11 page document setting forth four major goals, and numerous actions to achieve those goals. Included in the stated actions were several calls for more involvement of business leaders in business attraction and retention, as well as more networking among those leaders. The Plan was submitted to the City Council in late 2011 and formally approved in February of 2012.
A Group of Peers
In response to this call to action embodied in the City’s plan, Betsey Hale and Kelly Peters, VP of Business Attraction and Retention with the NCEDC at the time, approached a small group of business executives, suggesting they convene a group of their peers on a regular basis to discuss common problems, share best practices, and promote business growth. Acting on their suggestion, a small informal group of business owners and managers held breakfast meetings several times during 2012 under the banner of the “Loveland Leadership Forum.” In the course of these meetings, it became apparent that a more robust organization was needed to achieve regular communication among businesses and a sustainable business development effort in the community.
The participation of the City and NCEDC in these breakfast meetings lead to increased interaction among these organizations and business leaders. The City had recently purchased the manufacturing campus vacated by Hewlett Packard with the intent of re-populating the facility with manufacturing operations, thereby creating new jobs. Realizing that marketing and development expertise would be required to re-activate the site, the City chose Cumberland and Western Resources (C&W), a Kentucky company, as its developer and sold the buildings on the campus to that company in 2011. Cumberland and Western re-named the campus the “Rocky Mountain Center for Innovation and Technology (RMCIT).”
Business leaders were invited to participate in strategy meetings between the City and C&W. During one of these early meetings, C&W challenged the City to create a “business accelerator” program at the facility as means of stimulating entrepreneurial activity and fostering start-up businesses. In 2012, Betsey Hale and Kelly Peters met with business leaders and proposed that the business community become sponsors of an accelerator program to be located at the RMCIT. The business leaders accepted the challenge and mobilized dozens of people to begin planning for the opening of a business accelerator in mid-2013. With a need for a fund-raising program and an organizational structure to manage the operation of the accelerator, the leaders of the decided to create a new non-profit economic development corporation. This new entity came into being in February, 2013 and was named “Loveland Development Fund,” paying homage to the organization that had been created sixty years earlier.
Despite the commitment by the new LDF to support of the proposed business accelerator, and the tentative commitment of the City Council to participate in funding, the accelerator initiative stalled in the spring of 2013 due to the inability of the LDF and C&W to come to terms on lease arrangements for housing the accelerator in the RMCIT. The LDF board, however, was committed to the idea of having a business accelerator operation in the community. Jay Dokter, David Yowell and Terry Precht, three Loveland entrepreneurs who had been active in developing the accelerator plan were asked to come up with an alternative plan which did not require the LDF to commit to the liability of a building lease. The three proposed an accelerator program which could be operated independent of a particular physical location. After gaining favorable acceptance of this concept by the LDF board, Jay Dokter and his business partner Dan Kamrath proposed to start such an operation. In November of 2013 their program was established as “The Warehouse” business accelerator, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. The purpose of this new program is to assist “second stage” companies, small firms which had survived start-up, and which had financial backing and an established revenue stream, to grow into viable businesses. The Warehouse would be funded by a combination of income from the LDF, participant dues, grants, and other sources, including recovery of the funds transferred from the old LDF to the Community Foundation in 2005. The Warehouse operated at a small scale under the management of Jay and Dan until April 1, 2015, at which time Kelly Peters was hired in the position of Executive Director.
Achieving The Original Goal
Having achieved its original goal of creating a business accelerator operation, the LDF Board spent a great deal of time during 2015 considering its future direction. Topics such as fund-raising, communication, branding and regional cooperation were foremost in Board discussions. During the year, a new business-led organization named the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance (NCEA) was formed to promote economic development in Larimer and Weld Counties. Also during the year, the NCEDC ceased operation and folded its assets into the new NCEA. LDF board member Jason Tacha joined the NCEA board, giving Loveland and the LDF representation at a regional level.
Discussions about the future direction of the LDF continue to the date of this writing. In the February meeting of the Board of Directors, the name of the organization was changed to “Loveland Business Partnership,” purposefully deemphasizing the funding aspect of the organization while creating a new emphasis on the need for widespread “partnership” of Loveland’s business community in creating new job opportunities and future business growth.