COMMERCE CITY, CO – The economic news was so good that even gray skies, freezing drizzle and a handful of protestors couldn’t wipe the smile off Mayor Sean Ford’s face.
Three manufacturing companies announced plans Wednesday to expand their operations in Commerce City, investing more than $30 million in capital improvements and creating an estimated 150 jobs.
“It actually appears that the economy is starting to turn around a little bit,” Ford told reporters after the press conference. “The interest that Commerce City is getting–we’re poised perfect[ly] for development and can’t thank these businesses enough for sticking with us and increasing the business in our city.
A few demonstrators held up signs outside condemning hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, the technology used to unlock oil and natural gas in underground exploration. One sign said, “Fracked by Our Elected Officials.”
None of the three companies–Cummins Rocky Mountain LLC, UE Compression and Precast Concepts–is engaged in fracking. But Cummins, which is expanding its East 104th Avenue campus, manufactures high horsepower engines used in the mining industry, as well as in Dodge Ram trucks and recreational vehicles.
“Cummins=Fracking,” said another sign.
The protest may have had more to do with the political climate in Commerce City than the relative guilt or innocence of the companies. City officials have been embroiled in debate for months over the expansion of hydraulic fracturing within and near the city limits, spurred by energy firms inching closer to the Denver suburbs as they probe the rich Niobrara oil field.
The city council came under public pressure to enact a six-month moratorium on fracking last year after the Houston-based Hilcorp Energy applied for a permit to tap an existing well at East 96th Avenue and Tower Road.
Instead, the council took a different route at its Feb. 27 meeting, shelving the moratorium proposal for 60 days and disbanding its newly formed Oil and Gas Land Use Review Committee.
The moves came two days before Gov. John Hickenlooper formed a 12-member task force to resolve the tensions between local governments and state officials over regulating oil and gas operations. Some cities and counties have jumped into the fray by drafting their own sets of rules, touching off conflicts with state regulators and creating headaches for the industry.
The governor was out of town for Wednesday’s press conference in Commerce City, but he issued a statement praising the companies for retaining and expanding their operations in Colorado.
“We are working to make Colorado the best state to do business in the nation,” said Hickenloper. “This is a boost to the entire state and certainly to Commerce City and the Metro Denver region.”
Officials from Commerce City, Adams County and the state pursued the businesses aggressively, offering a combined $937,000 in sales and use tax credits, building and fee rebates, and State Enterprise Zone and Job Incentive Growth tax credits.
“These companies had choices to go do business in other states,” said Ken Lund, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. “They chose Colorado–they chose Commerce City–and that says a lot about this community . . . We intend to compete every day on the board to create jobs in Colorado, to be the state that leads its way out of the recession.”
Cummins Rocky Mountain and UE Compression elected to stay in Adams County instead of relocating to Phoenix, Oklahoma City or Houston. Precast Concepts moved its Ohio-based manufacturing operations to Commerce City to support its StoneBilt product line, said city officials.
Cummins Rocky Mountain plans to phase in four new business operations at its East 104th Avenue location, including a training center, back-office shared services center, and potentially a manufacturing facility.
“We are excited about our upcoming expansion in Commerce City, Adams County and the State of Colorado,” said Eric Sparks, Cummins chief financial officer and executive vice president. “The economic development agencies at the city, county and state levels continue to foster an environment that is conducive to business and is receptive to growth.”