If the 12-foot bronze eagle at Golden Guardian Park in Pueblo West had a sign around its neck, it would read: “Open for business.”
“Pueblo West is the fastest-growing community in Pueblo County,” said Harley Gifford, the special district’s interim manager. “Last year, I think we almost hit 300 [new] homes and we are on pace to do better than that this year. What we have is a growing population and we just need to bring in businesses to serve the needs of these people.”
About 12 to 15 new businesses are coming to Pueblo West, which Terry Zupan, the special district’s board president, says it needs after a few years of little economic development.
“We are unincorporated … and we don’t have the benefit of having our own sales tax,” she said. “We literally fund our community with a portion of property taxes from the county, which is very minimal. We scrape by and for what we have to go with and as far as our infrastructure, it’s amazing what we do and accomplish with what we have.”
Zupan said the metropolitan district is considering incorporating and has a study planned to analyze if it’s sustainable.
“That study is getting ready to go forward and then it would go to voters,” she said. “We want to know what the community thinks before we take any actions because that’s who we represent.”
It could be three to five years before the initiative is taken to voters, Zupan said, adding voters will be deciding on what would be the district’s first sales tax this November.
“It would be a 1 percent sales tax for road improvements, if it is approved,” she said.
Beyond funding, Zupan believes incorporating will give the district more oversight of what happens in Pueblo West.
“As it stands now, pretty much everything goes to the county as far as the building and that type of thing,” she said. “If we incorporated, we would have more of a say of what takes place in our community.”
Residents might be opposed to the idea as it would mean a sales tax would have to be implemented.
“If we are going to continue on and maintain some semblance of what roads should be like, we’re going to have to have some sort of revenue and feel like this might be the best route to go,” Zupan said. “Again it’s not up to us, it’s up to the voters.”
Meanwhile, Pueblo West could benefit from more commercial development, including some hotels.
“We want to be able to bring in a diverse group of businesses because really, when it gets down to TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment, our revenue is very restricted,” Zupan said. “If we can bring in more commercial business, we can retain [revenues] without having the restriction we have on the residential.”
About two years ago the state of Colorado permitted special districts to conduct their own economic development.
“In the past, special districts did not have that ability,” Zupan said. “Now, we have the ability to market the properties that we own, which is very exciting.”
The district has created an economic development committee that Gifford said is “eagerly waiting” to work with developers.
“They are more than welcome to contact us at any time,” he said. “I think we offer really good incentives to come down and build here. We have lots of industrial lots for sale at fantastic prices you won’t see anywhere else and then, with the incentives we can provide, you are getting a really good deal.”
Chris Markuson, the director of economic development for Pueblo County, also said there is ample property available to develop in Pueblo West.
“They have a couple of very, very large pieces of property that would really be perfect for an industry that needed to access Highway 50,” he said. “It also would give them access to employees from Pueblo, Pueblo West and possibly Cañon City.”
When it comes to retail, Markuson says it can be difficult to attract new businesses to Pueblo West because the district was planned without a downtown.
“There isn’t really a concentrated mass of local businesses,” he said. “You are not going to go to Pueblo West to walk from store to store like you would in downtown Pueblo. You have a much more car-centric environment so … the businesses that are going to succeed in Pueblo West are going to be the kind that are easily accessible by car.”
In recent years, Pueblo West has seen expansion in heavy industrial use, smaller commercial use and retail.
“It has seen some heavy industrial use expansion in an area that has access to railroads,” Markuson said. “It has seen some commercial expansion in a number of different smaller businesses and so forth in its industrial park, and then it has seen a good number of retail expansions from everything from a … Big R store to a new car wash being launched, liquor stores and a number of different retail things.”
New development also differs from that in Pueblo because Pueblo West is simply a smaller community.
“It’s a population around 35,000 people, so when something is built in Pueblo West, it is more recognizable,” Markuson said. “In Pueblo, you get a lot of new business starts and new industrial and commercial going on but you may not necessarily see it because a lot of times they are not building a new building but occupying a vacant one. Or if they are building a new building, it’s not terribly distinguishable because it’s amongst a bunch of other buildings.”
A higher number of new businesses have opened in Pueblo in the past year than in Pueblo West, but proportionally it’s about the same percentage.
“That shows that [Pueblo County] is healthy and the economy, from a business perspective, is doing well,” Markuson said, adding economic diversification is one thing the county is focusing on in order to brace for recessional impacts or boom-and-bust cycles.
The county is targeting a few key industries, he said, including manufacturing, transportation, logistics such as shipping products across the country, agriculture, cannabis and hemp, and then creative and renewable-energy industries.
“Those are really the things we are focusing on and will make Pueblo County strong,” Markuson said. “Pueblo West has a role in each of those industry sectors and it adds different assets for different types of businesses. We are blessed to have such diversity in what types of businesses can be successful in Pueblo County as a whole.”