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Colorado's Innovation Economy a Bright Spot Amid Recession


Abound Solar is nearly doubling its office space at Centerra in Loveland, adding 50 new jobs by the end of the year. KUNC’s Erin O’Toole talks with Jeff Nuttall, publisher of the Northern Colorado Business Report, about this and other developments in the local innovation economy.O’Toole: Jeff, let’s start with Abound Solar, because adding 50 new jobs and expanding both its office and laboratory space in Centerra is pretty exciting news…

Nuttall: It really is, Erin. The expansion will more than double the Certification and Reliability Lab for Abound, which makes thin-film solar energy modules at its manufacturing facility in Weld County. The lab in Centerra works directly with the factory to ensure the quality of the product, which it has been producing for customers around the world since 2009.

O’Toole: Is there a reason the offices are in Centerra rather than at the factory?

Nuttall: The company deliberately chose to have a regional focus when it spun out of Colorado State University in 2007. It has a research and development facility in Fort Collins, its headquarters in Loveland and the factory near Longmont, and employs more than 350 people in the region.

O’Toole: Now, I understand there’s another component to the Centerra expansion beyond just office space.

Nuttall: There is, Erin. Abound has established an outdoor solar module testing site, adjacent to I-25. Once fully operational, the site will produce 100 kilowatts of electricity – that’s enough to power about 30 homes.

O’Toole: Will that just be for research purposes?

Nuttall: In the beginning, yes, but the company has enough space to install up to 400 kilowatts of solar generation over the next several years. Abound and the city of Loveland haven’t determined exactly how the generated power will be used, but there are possibilities. Abound has been a real success story during this recession.

O’Toole:  And this is not the only high-tech news out of Loveland recently, either.

Nuttall: That’s right. The ACE park – the manufacturing and technology project put together by the Colorado Association of Manufacturers and Technology — is attracting dozens of possible tenants interested in touring the buildings on the Agilent campus. The developer, United Properties, is working on redevelopment plans, and everything seems to be on schedule. It won’t happen overnight, but there has been enormous progress over the past few months.

O’Toole: Are there any other efforts under way in other cities to boost high-tech employment?

Nuttall: Well, the efforts aren’t as visible as the ACE park, but still exciting. Mike Freeman moving from being the CFO of the City of Fort Collins to the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Innosphere could mean a stronger emphasis on the business side of innovation, and like the ACE park, bringing technology to the marketplace faster.

O’Toole: Right. What are some of the things that business or government can do to expand on these efforts?

Nuttall: That’s exactly the question Colorado’s Senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, asked a task force of entrepreneurs from the cleantech, bioscience and aerospace industries recently. The task force called themselves Coloradans for an Innovation Economy, and presented their recommendations to Bennet and Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper last month.

O’Toole: What were the highlights of that report?

Nuttall: Some of the suggestions were to strengthen the state’s education system, attract more out-of-state venture capital to Northern Colorado especially, attract and keep businesses in Colorado, pave the road for innovation to job creation, ensure a stable and adequate investment in research and development, give small businesses the tools they need to be competitive, and create a competitive regulatory environment. Tall orders in this rocky recovery, to be sure, but vital to keep our region on the cutting edge in the decades to come.

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