WOODLAND PARK — Sturman Industries has developed plans to transform its corner of Woodland Park into a nexus for green-minded, high-tech research-and-development companies.
In other words, it’s hoping for like-minded neighbors.
To pull it off, the engineering company will be offering portions of its sprawling campus for sale to select firms interested in relocating to the area.
The fact that the economy has barely recovered from the downturn, or that commercial development has largely come to a standstill, doesn’t seem to faze the Eddie and Carol Sturman.
Their motivation isn’t financial, so the idea that this might be difficult to pull off isn’t top of mind for them. Instead, their idea is driven by a desire to help attract more high-paying jobs to the area while helping to establish Woodland Park as a high-tech destination. For the right companies, of course.
Sturman Industries, which specializes in industrial applications, is headquartered on more than 400 acres of wooded land in the mountains around Woodland Park.
Early last year, the owners, Eddie Sturman and his wife Carol, hired a team of developers, architects, contractors and brokers to design and market office spaces on approximately 200 acres of the land.
“I can’t sell a three-acre parcel of (raw) land in Woodland Park to someone in the Silicon Valley,” said Tim Hall, a developer with Grubb & Ellis Co. “But we have prototypes of the buildings we can sell in addition to the ground, and we can tailor the building to the company’s needs.”
The prototype buildings come in 10,000-, 30,000-, and 50,000-square-foot models, and can be built with or without certain negotiable amenities, like underground parking.
“We can scale these up or down, and we have very precise pricing for our presentations,” Hall said. “Most of the legwork is done. The costs, product and vision have all been established.”
The existing Sturman Industries offices served as the model. That building is designed with exposed beams, a loft, natural lighting and a patio facing the mountains.
It is, in short, very un-corporate-like.
Carol Sturman said the company isn’t looking for maximum occupancy on the grounds, but would be content with two to five build-outs.
“We love the open space here, and we don’t want to change the ambiance too much,” she said. “But the best thing for this community is to attract like-minded companies.”
By “like-minded companies,” Carol means a firm that will buy into the culture and philosophy of Sturman Industries.
“Engineers bring their dogs to work, wear flip-flops, and can jump on a dirt bike during lunch,” Hall said. “It’s a world-class facility in a national park. They’ve completely thrown out the mold of the standard office park.”
Elk, deer and bears roam on the land, and employees have access to bike paths, cabins, workout facilities, pool tables and flexible work schedules. When the weather is nice, it’s not uncommon for company meetings to be held in the woods.
“It’s an opportunity for a small company to enjoy the same kind of environment they offer on the Nike or Google campus,” Hall said.
The Sturmans believe the added costs associated with maintaining such a lifestyle pays for itself.
“We attract the best people in the industry because they want to be here and they want stay here,” Eddie said. “It’s the value of the intangibles. The stock market is only concerned with numbers; it gives no value to things it can’t quantify. But to me, the intangibles are more important. If people hate going to work, that’s going to show up in your financial statements.”
Sustainability and preservation of the natural surroundings are other important aspects to the Sturman plan.
“There will be zero impact on the environment as far as construction goes,” said Art Klein Construction Vice President Rick Cihak in Colorado Springs. “(Potential companies) will buy the minimum acreage necessary and the design is for a minimum of infrastructure. We still want those elk and bears crossing the campus.”
Eddie Sturman said he wants Sturman Industries to be “the ideal company,” and Carol said finding new energy options is a big part of that.
“We expect to be fully utilizing renewable energy, and to be carbon-free in two to three years,” she said. “Eddie is developing a system that will help us do that, and what he’s working on will also go a long way to answering the planet’s energy issues.”
While all of this will come at a premium for potential movers, Hall said it will help to weed out those companies that don’t buy into the Sturmans’ vision.
“Companies that move here won’t be doing it because they’re looking for the cheapest office space,” he said. “It’s not designed for companies looking for the best square-footage deal. The costs are not exorbitant, but you’re paying a premium for this kind of lifestyle. We’re looking for established companies that buy into the overall vision.”
Eddie first came across the idea in the early 1980s when he worked as a mergers and acquisitions analyst for Parker Hannifin.
“I went to see a company in Boston and I thought I was lost,” he said. “I was walking through a botanical garden when I realized that it was part of the office. It was a beautiful place, had a tremendous culture and everyone you talked to, you could tell they were buzzing. It was a flat organization, so everyone was as important as everyone else. It was shocking; I’d never heard of or seen anything like that.”
Still, his report back to Parker Hannifan was counter-intuitive.
“I said don’t even think about buying this company,” he said. “We would’ve ruined it; our cultures were totally opposite. But I knew then that was exactly what I wanted if I ever started my own company.”
In 1995, the Sturmans relocated their company from Camarillo, Calif., with the express purpose of setting up an employee-centric community in Woodland Park. At the time, the firm had 25 employees, and Carol said all but two of them made the move here.
The company now has about 50 employees, and Eddie has since amassed more than 200 patents. The plaques of each patent line the walls of the building, and range from engines with cam-less shafts to carbonators on a keg. His digital valve was used by the Apollo space program.
The Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp. is working closely with the Sturmans to attract companies from outside the region.
“This is something that is so unique to our region,” said EDC Executive Vice President David White. “This could be very attractive to research-oriented companies looking to foster creativity and innovation. We’ve had a number of tours with interested parties, and we have one company that we’re hoping will commit in the next few months.”
Hall said construction on a new building would take 12 to 18 months to complete, meaning that a new company could be up and running in Woodland Park by early 2013.
The Sturmans have the luxury of not having to worry if a deal doesn’t come through. Carol said they aren’t selling the land for financial reasons.
“This is not money-driven,” Cihak said. “They just want to share their dream.”
And regardless, Carol is not merely optimistic; she’s absolutely certain that she’ll have some new neighbors shortly.
“It will happen,” she said.
That’s not just good news for Woodland Park; it’s also good news for Hall.
“As a developer, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “It’s like being a 5-year-old asked to help design Disney World.”
The project at-a-glance
Principals: Eddie and Carol Sturman, Sturman Industries
Developer: Tim Hall, Grubb & Ellis
Broker: Jason Dreger, Grubb & Ellis
Construction consultant: Rick Cihak, Art C. Klein Construction
Architectural consultant: Gary Larson, The Larson Group
Woodland Park at-a-glance
Mayor: Steve Randolph
Area: 5.7 square miles
Elevation: 8,465 feet
Interesting fact: Surrounded by the 1 million-acre Pike National Forest