Corporations looking to take advantage of Colorado’s population growth and weather, without the commercial real estate price tag of the metro area, have started heading south.
“We’re experiencing our lowest unemployment rates right now, because of the overall Colorado economy,” said Susan Fries, economic development specialist, Pueblo County Economic Development and Geographic Information Systems. “We are expecting workforce growth from movement up and down the Front Range from folks that perhaps can’t afford to live in the northern part of the Front Range and, along with that, bring more advanced industry development.”
According to Fries that industry development begins with Pueblo’s bread and butter (or nuts and bolts, as it were): manufacturing.
“Of course our community is built on manufacturing, but we are moving that towards advanced manufacturing,” Fries said.
An example of that advanced manufacturing is Vestas, the largest providing of wind turbines in the world whose wind tower manufacturing facility is located in Pueblo.
“With Colorado’s commitment to growing its renewable energy industry and highly qualified workforce, it was a win-win to base our North American manufacturing operations here,” said Anthony Knapp, vice president of Vestas Towers Americans Inc., in a release. “There were other locations considered for our North American manufacturing operations base, but none were as committed to our industry’s growth and success than Colorado.”
According to Fries, the windfall from Vestas goes beyond the corporation itself as more companies have been able to benefit from the global leader’s presence.
“We have a company called Cooper & Turner that produces the massive bolts that hold the (wind turbine) tower to its footing,” she said. “That’s a new company as of last year.”
According to Fries, manufacturing and advanced manufacturing is just one of seven industries that make up the growing economy and economical development in Pueblo.
“Pueblo is one of the certified Colorado creative districts,” Fries said of the broad industry. “Creative industry helps diversify the economy and provides opportunities for many folks to participate.”
A slew of theater companies, production studios and one of the largest hand-made soap manufacturers in Colorado make up a large portion of Pueblo’s creative industry as do breweries and distilleries.
Due to the expanse of the medical industry, Fries said it is one of Pueblo’s largest industries. Serving all of Southern Colorado, Pueblo’s medical industry contains the medical facilities for the region including hospitals and surgical centers. Also in the medical category is cannabis, an area that Pueblo has begun to thrive in not for recreational use, but for research.
“Colorado State University-Pueblo has the Institute of Cannabis Research, which is the only state-funded cannabis research facility,” Fries said.
According to the Pueblo County Office of Economic Development and Geographic Information Systems, Pueblo provides a unique opportunity for cannabis development and research far beyond recreational use. The Institute of Cannabis Research offers the opportunity for qualified companies to partner with top researchers, while also providing solutions regarding use, benefits and dangers to policy-makers and law enforcement.
“The development of the chile pepper is important to the development of the agricultural industry,” Fries said of another of Pueblo’s key industries.
According to the Pueblo Chile Growers Association, the Pueblo chile “is the most famous chile of our region, attracting chile aficionados’ attention from around the world.”
It is that attention that led Pueblo to merge parts of its agricultural industry with tourism to provide a unique take on one of the country’s oldest industries.
“We have the ability to do farm tours, especially at the chile growers’ farm locations,” she said.
Though not the region’s main crop, the Pueblo chile - whose pungency ranges from 5,000 to 20,000 Scoville Heat Units - is by far its sexiest.
The other industries that Fries said make up Pueblo’s economy and are the source of its economic development are tourism, transportation and outdoor recreation.