The Town of Parker’s efforts to strengthen its daytime economy has leaders touting the area’s positive attributes to attract a fresh crop of …
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The Town of Parker’s efforts to strengthen its daytime economy has leaders touting the area’s positive attributes to attract a fresh crop of employers.
There are some challenges, however, including the town’s distance from Interstate 25 and its reputation as a bedroom community. An estimated 80 percent to 85 percent of the population leaves by 8 a.m. each weekday, making things more difficult on local businesses, particularly restaurants that rely on a steady lunch crowd to make ends meet.
But local officials are highlighting the assets, including a high household income and a qualified labor force, to convince businesses to locate in Parker.
Decision-makers want to continue capitalizing on the healthcare industry boom that has hit the E-470 corridor, an area that is quickly becoming known as the “medical mile.” It includes the town’s largest employer, Parker Adventist Hospital, and Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, along with scores of medical office buildings that house a range of private practices.
Parker’s leadership is wisely taking a three-pronged approach to boosting employment opportunities: retaining existing businesses, assisting up-and-comers and bringing in new blood. The services are free of charge.
Parker Town Councilmember Josh Martin says it will likely be a combination of small- to medium-sized businesses that fill the remaining spots designated for light-industrial and commercial uses.
For some, Parker is the perfect area to set up shop, and the town is actively marketing itself to make sure those employers know how to get in touch.
Helping the new guys
To help with its daytime economy push, the town created an economic development director position last year and hired John Hall, who has already worked his magic to place interested parties in a space that meets their specifications. Under his relatively short tenure, Parker has welcomed Murdoch’s and recently announced that Sears Hometown is coming soon.
Separately, Hall and town council liaisons are preparing for their annual retention follow-ups, in which they ask business owners what challenges they face and try to determine a way to help out. The experts, for example, can help build marketing strategies for the businesses based on detailed demographic information. Hall says retaining the businesses that help make Parker what it is is the top priority for the town.
Worker Studio, an animation and visual effects studio based at the Sage House on Pikes Peak Drive, is one of the latest upstarts to benefit from the town’s outreach. Run entirely by a brother-sister tandem, the company opened in 2009 and expects to expand in the coming years.
Nicole Post, operations manager for Worker Studio, said she has about 20 local freelance artists and interns working on a contract basis, but her business plan has the studio adding 20 full-time positions in its first phase of expansion. Eventually, the company could employ 50-100 people, although Post says she and her brother, owner Michael Hemschoot, don’t plan on becoming another Pixar Animation Studios. Hemschoot returned to his hometown of Parker to open his own studio after working on major blockbusters such as “The Matrix.”
Worker Studio is leaning on Hall’s guidance to make sure it achieves its goals.
“Ever since we met John Hall, we’ve had a tremendous amount of support. He’s putting us in touch with people in creative industries and pointing us in the right directions,” Post said, adding he his helping them secure funding.
The company, which now produces mostly commercials, is going into content creation and producing original webisodes and shorts to be aired on television or online, as well branching out into live action with subsidiary Travellin’ Productions.
Hall has also lent his expertise to valuable Parker employers, including RJD Machining, an established provider of components for medical equipment, aerospace and other industries on Dransfeldt Way.
But just one year ago, the discussions with business owners had a very different tone.
“We reached a point where the economy slowed so severely, that our discussions a year ago were about downsizing, not growing,” Hall said. “Now we’re starting to see more activity.”
From home to storefront
Martin said the economic development department wants to tap into the approximately 500 home-based businesses in the Parker area to increase the number of people working in town and patronizing businesses struggling with a so-so daytime economy. The town is inviting the owners of home-based businesses to discuss whether its feasible to move into a storefront and add a few employees to the payroll.
“We’re trying to see if it’s something that makes sense for them while trying to fill some of those vacant spaces,” he said. “It’s the main piece of the Parker business scene: those with five employees or less.”
Martin and council member Mike Waid, both economic development liaisons, are working with staff to roll out the Business in Transition Program in early April. It takes a multi-faceted approach to helping small businesses come up with a strategy for success.
Striking a balance
There are few designated areas for large-scale employers, and building-height restrictions will ensure Parker does not turn into another Denver Technological Center. The town is seeking to strike a balance between jobs, housing and commercial components.
“We will always be exporters of labor, but that’s not always bad thing because those dollars come back into town and feed the local businesses,” Hall said. “By design, we would like them to feed off each other.”
Parker is offering incentives to employers that are looking to come to town. Parker Assisted Living by MorningStar, which plans to hire a few dozen employees, is part of a shareback program.
Douglas County also is offering its economic gardening program to local business owners free of charge. It provides industry specific data that can help business owners understand and target their audience and maximize profits.
The Parker Improvement Program and Small Business Scholarship Program are also additional tools offered by the town. For more information, visit www.parkeronline.org.
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