If someone were to serenade the city of Pueblo, a song that couldn’t miss might be ‘It Was a Very Good Year.” But Pueblo, once known as ‘the Steel City,’ may have exceeded that, according to Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce President, Rod Slyhoff. From heavy industry to agriculture to tourism, Pueblo had a robust 2018.
“The economy in Pueblo seems to be strong,” said Slyhoff. “Sales tax revenues increased. We’re really pleased.” Companies, he said, like the idea of doing business in a location blessed with a great climate and infrastructure that allows them to move their products with ease and predictability.
Evraz Steel, a Russia-based company, and Xcel Energy, signed an agreement that will keep the steel producer in Pueblo for the next 23 years. Xcel agreed on charging Evraz at a fixed rate for power and pledged to construct a 240 megawatt solar facility on Evraz property. The new energy source will also replace coal as the primary fuel for the operation. The deal, said Slyhoff, “is just huge for Pueblo.”
Evraz is an international company with operations in a number of countries. It has a worldwide workforce of more than 80,000 employees. The Pueblo plant employs between 800-900 workers but Slyhoff believes that that number will continue to grow.
Pueblo also brought in a new wholesale produce distribution company. Minnesota-based Russ Davis Wholesale plans to invest $8 million to $10 million to operate a 125,000 square foot facility at the Pueblo Industrial Park. When it opens its doors for business it will provide the city with 160 full time workers.
Slyhoff said that the signing of the Farm Bill by President Trump also portends good things for one of Pueblo’s newest and fastest growing industries, hemp. “We already have a good sized (hemp) facility,” he said, alluding to Pueblo’s 140-acre hemp farm. Hemp is the fiber derived from the cannabis plant. It has been used for centuries in the manufacture of everything from rope to clothing. “We’re going to see that really boom and become a big part of our economy in Pueblo.”
Pueblo also experienced an uptick in tourism, said Slyhoff. “Our ‘Chile and Frijoles Festival’ was the biggest in 24 years,” he said. The event, held each fall, attracted more than 150,000 visitors. “We’re starting to see people come down from Denver and Boulder,” he said. “We’re also getting a good crowd from northern New Mexico.”
Slyhoff said that the festival’s success forced a lot of visitors to find lodging outside of Pueblo because the city’s hotel capacity was full. The festival generated more than $4 million in revenue. “Now we’re forced with topping this,” he said. “We’re already working on next year’s, the 25th anniversary of the festival.”
Challenger Homes, a manufactured housing operation, also announced plans to begin operations in Pueblo. “It would build pre-fabricated, high-end homes,” said Slyhoff. Challenger, a Colorado Springs-based company, plans to move into the Airport Industrial Park. It will have a workforce of 50 people, he said.
One place where Pueblo struck out was on the diamond. The city was in negotiations with a Utah businessman who saw Pueblo as a good place to relocate his minor league baseball team. The agreement between the two sides bogged down and the deal was scuttled. One sticking point was construction of a $25 million multi-purpose facility where the Pueblo Owls would have played. The team is a farm club of the Los Angeles Angels. Had talks progressed, the plan was to play ball beginning in 2020.