As the last days of 2007 slipped away, Denver-based real estate firm McWhinney was closing on the purchase of 1,100 vacant acres at the intersection of I-25 and Colo. Highway 7 in Broomfield. The company outlined its vision for a mixed-use project of immense proportions: corporate headquarters, medical offices, retail, restaurants, hotels and homes would fill the land, purchased for $32.5 million, over the course of two to four decades.
Then the Great Recession hit. Though the Boulder region fared better than many parts of the country, hundreds of jobs were lost over the next two years. In Broomfield, progress on McWhinney's project ground to a halt.
Today, though, they are back in motion and surging ahead. A charter school has taken root, and Adams 12 plans a STEM campus in the area; Westminster's Butterfly Pavillion is migrating to the community, and JP Morgan Chase will soon break ground on a 150,000-square-foot, $220 million data center.
The development — long called North Park but now rebranded as Baseline — is one of many construction zones in Broomfield, a city that has been booming longer and stronger than its neighbors to the north, south, east or west by catering to international companies and a no-red-tape approach to building business.
The result is an average wage 58 percent higher than the state as a whole, the fastest job growth in the region and the arrival of a cadre of international companies putting their money on the line to build big and hire hundreds.
"There's a lot of things cooking right now," said City Manager Charles Ozaki. "Broomfield has done very well."
High concentration of high-pay jobs
While Boulder County might be known for its wealthy citizenry, Broomfield actually leads the state in wages. Through the third quarter of 2017, Broomfield's average salary was $89,191 — well above Colorado's average of $56,300, according to Brian Lewandowski, economist for University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business, who utilized data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The county's wages are so high, in part, because it is home to multiple corporate headquarters. Classified by the BLS as "management of companies and enterprises," Broomfield has 6.6 percent of all the corporate HQ jobs in the state, with average wages of $298,755, a figure that includes bonuses and other pay.
Three international companies have in the past 24 months moved to Broomfield: German plumbing equipment maker Viega relocated its American operations from Kansas to Broomfield, in June beginning work on a 20,000-square-foot training center and 60,000-square-foot HQ building; Swiss investment firm Partners Group in December broke ground on a 13-acre campus; and Australian software company simPRO selected Broomfield as a base to launch into the U.S. market.
Together, they could bring nearly 1,000 jobs to the area.
Broomfield has been a hot spot for corporate headquarters since at least the 1980s, said Ozaki, who has been with the city government since 1982.
Ski boot producer Lange built more than 100,000 square feet of factory and warehouse space there in the early '70s. Hunter Douglas, a leading manufacturer of window coverings, got its start in Broomfield in 1985, and keeps significant operations there today. IBM and StorageTek had a presence there as well, Ozaki said, and Ball Corp. relocated to the city from Muncie, Ind., in 1998.
Broomfield wasn't on the list for prospective landing places when simPRO went looking. The company, which provides organization software and mobile solutions for small, mostly blue-collar services such as HVAC, plumbing and electrical companies, sent two workers to scout out California for a potential HQ ahead of a U.S. expansion.
The pair also checked out all the usual suspects for a company hub: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York/New Jersey, Florida, Texas. It was a chance call from a business partner that brought scouts to Colorado; simPRO's first office was in Boulder, but Broomfield had the room the company needed to grow.
"They definitely made the right choice in being based in Broomfield," said Glenn Nott, president of North American operations. "When we started recruiting, we attracted talent from all over. If we had been based in Boulder, we may have missed out on some folks from south Denver."
John Sullivan, Viega's chief financial office, said that the abundance of homes and restaurants near Interlocken made it an attractive choice for both the headquarters and the training center, which will host thousands of the company's customers each year.
Said Sullivan: "That you have companies coming in and building, making significant investments, that says something about this area."
Red carpet v. red tape
Since 2012, Broomfield has added some 7,300 jobs from 21 companies through expansion or relocation, representing $882 million in capital investments.
Broomfield is well positioned to attract businesses for a number of reasons, said Bo Martinez, the city's economic development director. Halfway between Denver and Boulder, much of its development has taken place along I-25 and U.S. 36, major transportation corridors.
Also, having the city and county governments combined makes it easier to move projects through the regulatory process, Martinez said: "We roll out the red carpet and not the red tape."
Broomfield's success isn't shaking economic development in Boulder, said Clif Harald. Yes, the city of Boulder has a "tradition of regulations that sometimes create burdens," but the city continues to be "a major employment center" — one that helps feed Broomfield's success.
Broomfield also benefits from having room to grow — and the political will to use available space. While Boulder plans and prioritizes walkable neighborhoods with mixed-use development and alternative transportation, Broomfield is actually building such communities at large scale.
The McWhinney Baseline development is one, large example. Kyle Harris, vice president of community development and general manager of the project, outlined a vision of protected bike lanes, community gardens funneling produce to local restaurants that in turn use waste as compost for the gardens, and a mix of commercial, residential and educational establishments that ensure residents could live, work, go to school and shop all within the community.
None of that would be possible without a cooperative government, Harris said.
Working with Broomfield, the conversation is "about what you can do, not what you can't do," he said. "When problems come up, we solve them and figure out how to move forward."
Housing crunch on the horizon
One problem cropping up is housing. Broomfield home prices rose faster than anywhere in the Boulder region, appreciating 11.1 percent over the course of 2017, according to a January report by the Daily Camera. A median-price single family home now costs $615,000, said Debra Meyer, a local realtor and member of the city's affordable housing task force.
Home construction has been robust since the Great Recession — 3,506 apartments and 1,458 single-family homes have been built through 2017, according to Ozaki — but most new single-family dwellings were large homes in upper price ranges, built for the corporate executives Broomfield has attracted, Meyer said.
What is needed is a "spectrum of housing options" at all price points, something the task force is advocating for. Developers are on board, she said, but it remains to be seen if they can or will build more affordable homes.
Baseline's Harris said he is going to try. The community has plans for 6,205 residential units, both rentals and for-sale, over its lifetime — and a goal to deliver townhomes or condos for less than $300,0000.
"I don't know if we're going to be able to do it, but we're trying," he said.
Of course, another economic downturn — or two — could delay Baseline yet again on its long road to full build-out, a possibility Harris said the company has planned for.
"We fully expect we'll go through three (downturns) before we're anywhere close" to done, he said. "For a project of this size, we measure our development horizons in terms of decades."
Martinez likewise casts a long eye on the economic health of the city, a strategy that has continued to bear fruit for Broomfield.
"With the diverse economy we have, it helped us climb out (of the recession) a lot sooner than other cities," he said. "Broomfield continues to come on into its own, and we think we'll be a major employment center in the Denver metro for the next 25 years."
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect jobs number for Boulder County in 2015. The correct number is 141,171.
Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, email@example.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle
Broomfield's income, job growth outpacing neighboring counties
Median household income, 2016: $83,334
Jobs, 2007: 30,331
Jobs, 2015: 141,171
Increase: 35 percent
Jobs, 2007: 67,829
Jobs, 2015: 85,157
Increase: 25.5 percent
Jobs, 2007: 135,425
Jobs, 2015: 41,171
Increase: 10.8 percent
Jobs, 2007: 392,366
Jobs, 2015: 430,587
Increase: 9.7 percent
Jobs, 2007: 109,755
Jobs, 2015: 120,470
Increase: 9.7 percentt
Source: U.S. Census Bureau