Economic Development

Fort Collins is one of six communities featured in a new exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Places of Invention explores the idea of how location can shape innovation, examining cities where a mix of resources, inventive people, and an inspiring environment have caused invention to flourish.

Defining a "place of invention" is a challenge, according to Joyce Bedi, Senior Historian with the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center, which has been studying the idea of invention for two decades.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Fast Internet is coming. Google Fiber is in Kansas City, Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah. More cities are on the list. But as the rollout of Google Fiber has shown, the train of gigabit-speed broadband does not reach all stops at the same time. There's even a pretty good chance it will skip some entirely.

Big cities are more likely to get high-speed service early. When fast Internet comes from traditional providers, like Comcast, its rollout can be uneven, and available only to businesses, not residents. Gigabit speed, when it is available, is also very expensive.

Unless, that is, you live in Longmont, Colorado.

Maeve Conran / KGNU

Colorado has experienced massive population growth in the last few years, a that trend is projected to continue. Finding enough water to meet the demands of the booming Front Range has city planners closely looking at how new developments can be built with conservation as a key component.

"The 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010," said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. "How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there?"

Jim Hill / KUNC

Severance taxes are what energy companies pay to the state for the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals they take out of the ground. Each year that adds up to a lot of cash. In Colorado, half of that money is supposed to go back to cities and counties impacted by energy development.

That's why when Colorado lawmakers voted to take $20 million away from the state’s severance tax fund for the 2015/2016 state budget, Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer wasn't happy.

"Every year they try to take it. So we fight this every year," said Kirkmeyer.

Ken Lund / Flickr-Creative Commons

Boulder is one of the most unaffordable cities on Colorado's Front Range. And like other expensive U.S. cities (think Seattle and San Francisco) it’s brainstorming ways to make housing accessible for low and middle-income folks.

Tuesday night, the city council approved a new tool to do this. It’s called an – wait for it – affordable housing linkage fee. It’s a mouthful. I know. But if you care about affordable housing, (and a lot of people in the Front Range are starting to) you’re probably going to start hearing more about linkage fees.

Courtesy of Lucky Brake Ltd. / Lucky Brake Ltd.

The Loveland Feed & Grain has been powering the city of Loveland for a long time.

Built in 1892, it was the site of the first electric lighting in Loveland. When the mill found that it had more electrical capacity than it could use, it offered the extra up to the town.

"And provided the power for the very first city street lights," said Felicia Harmon, who is overseeing the Feed & Grain's next incarnation. The former grain elevator is now being transformed into the city's next "power source" – the Artspace Loveland Arts Campus.

As a result of Colorado's booming oil production, energy companies are paying more in severance taxes – money they pay the state for taking minerals out of the ground. Half of it is supposed to go to back to local communities, both directly and through grants. But thanks to market forces – and political conditions in Denver – it's not always a stable source of funding.

City of Greeley / Flickr-Creative Commons

Oil towns across the country are seeing the impacts of the price slump. The entire state of Texas is seeing an economic slowdown. Tiny oil towns once benefiting from the Bakken boom are watching warily as growth slows.

In Greeley, which sits in the midst of Colorado's biggest oil patch, the story is pretty different, said Victoria Runkle, the assistant city manager and the town's financial guru.

"In January 2015 our sales taxes were 7 percent higher than they were in January 2014," said Runkle.

That's right – the town is raking in more revenue from sales this January, with oil at $47 a barrel, than a year ago, when prices were approaching $100 a barrel.

Nathan Heffel / KUNc

Old Town Square in downtown Fort Collins is getting a major facelift. The $3 million project will add updated amenities to the 30-year-old core of the city. Funding came in part from the city's downtown development authority which committed $1.9 million in bonds and tax increment.

In existence since 1981, the DDA has seen Old Town transformed from a vacant, rundown area to the city's main hot spot.

Downtown Greeley

At one point, the downtown was the cultural and business center of Greeley, Colorado. Over time though, the population moved west toward the mountains and I-25 - and businesses followed. A downtown development authority was formed in 1998 to stem the tide, to overcome the perception that the downtown was dead.

Now it appears that the city center is starting to turn that final corner of revitalization.