As Charles Schwab’s first wave of employees unpacks boxes at the firm’s new corporate campus, Lone Tree already is scanning its economic horizon.
The small city with plenty of room to grow is on a development roll, and its leaders want to keep the momentum going.
Economic development director Jeff Holwell, who joined the city’s staff earlier this year, mapped out a vision for Lone Tree during the city council’s Oct. 7 work session. The plan recommends Lone Tree target mostly high-paying industries to locate and expand there, strengthen and grow its retail base and ensure businesses already operating within the city limits thrive.
It suggests an upgrade to the city`s website, more social media to highlight the city’s restaurants and retailers, a survey to gauge the satisfaction of current business owners and marketing the city to real estate agents and corporate site selectors.
Many of these are tasks at which Lone Tree already has proven itself capable.
“I think the city for a very long time has had a very ambitious agenda,” said Holwell, formerly economic development director and chief operating officer at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot of geographic advantages.”
Both Interstate 25 and C-470 cut through Lone Tree, with those major thoroughfares undergoing or soon to undergo significant upgrades. Recent state-level commitments that bolster the certainty of the southeast light rail extension also make it easier to plan for Lone Tree’s future development.
The geographic advantages also include proximity to five of the state’s nine Fortune 500 companies. CH2M Hill, DISH Network, Arrow Electronics, Liberty Interactive and Western Union all are within a mile of Lone Tree.
The largest swath of undeveloped land in Lone Tree is the four acres of RidgeGate east of Interstate 25, but the plan’s focus is citywide.
“Certainly in terms of primary job development, RidgeGate is a huge opportunity for us,” Holwell said. “Our intention is to grow from within as well as the eastern portion. We want to highlight both the primary employment and the retail employment strategy. The combination of both will provide us a world-class business community.”
With Schwab as the west side’s major corporate tenant, the city hopes to find a similar significant employer on the east side.
“There are no limits on what that has to be,” Holwell said. “It could be a combination of several businesses to make 4,000 employees or a single corporate campus.”
At build-out, Schwab’s Lone Tree campus will house about 4,000 employees, making it the county’s second-largest employer. The Douglas County School District employs about 7,000 people.
Holwell suggested the city target financial services, technology and telecom businesses, energy and professional services, aerospace and aviation and health care-related businesses. Average wages in those industries range from $52,000 to about $126,000.
While Douglas County’s median household income is nearing $100,000, Holwell noted its average wage of $54,400 is lower than the average in Broomfield, Denver and Arapahoe counties.
“It’s a suggestion we have some work to do in improving our primary employment base,” Holwell said.
Holwell proposed the city consider hosting a commercial real estate summit, and continue its predictable, streamlined city approval process.
He recommended conducting a “retail and restaurant opportunities analysis” and gaining increased exposure for the city’s existing shops and eateries.
“I’m suggesting we really start thinking about our website and social media presence,” he said. “Get on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Look at what people are saying about Lone Tree.”
The 3-year-old Lone Tree Arts Center, which Holwell called “our greatest tourism asset,” should remain a marketing priority.
Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning said the city can use testimony from those who have recently worked with city staff to enhance its reputation.
Schwab’s senior vice president of corporate real estate Glenn Cooper reportedly told Gunning that he’s “never worked with a city that has leaned forward more than Lone Tree did. That kind of stuff gets around.”