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 November 5, 1999

Business leaders should tread lightly on ConAgra

Could Northern Colorado be headed for a full-fledged economic-development war?

That’s how serious the current situation is with Omaha-based ConAgra Inc.’s plans to consolidate some administrative operations in a new Northern Colorado site.

ConAgra, which employs thousands of workers from Greeley to Longmont, apparently is considering several locations for a consolidation of some administrative offices in Northern Colorado, including a potential new location for the Monfort Inc. corporate headquarters. Monfort now is based just north of Greeley, and ConAgra also occupies a floor in the Bank One building in downtown Greeley.

But what has business leaders in Greeley up in arms is not the possibility of a new site for ConAgra’s office operations; it’s the possibility that that site could lie outside of Weld County, in neighboring Larimer County.

Sites purportedly being considered include two in Greeley, namely Hewlett-Packard Co. land near the Boomerang golf course and the Promontory development at U.S. Highway 34 Bypass, U.S. 34 Business and Colorado Highway 257. That’s the business park recently chosen by State Farm Insurance Co. for a new 450,000-square-foot campus.

Other sites being considered by ConAgra are neither in Greeley nor Weld County, though they’re close. The company has considered the Ptarmigan Business Park at the northeast corner of Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 392 on land annexed to Windsor. Also, the McWhinney property at I-25 and U.S. Highway 34, on land annexed to Loveland, is a leading contender. Sites in Fort Collins have been considered as well.

Both Windsor and Loveland locations are just a stone’s throw or two from the Weld County line, but the psychological impact on Greeley of losing such operations could be enormous. Monfort made Greeley the beef capital of Colorado, if not the entire West. To lose its headquarters to Larimer County would be a bitter pill for Greeley to swallow.

That fact is evidenced by a full-page ad that Greeley and Weld County business leaders recently purchased in the Greeley Tribune, in which they stressed the importance of ConAgra’s operations to the city and county.

In the end, however, ConAgra likely will make its decision based on what constitutes the best business move for the company; relatively few ConAgra shareholders hail from Weld County. The danger lies not only in the potential damage to Greeley from such a loss but also in the potential damage to regional cooperation.

Greeley succeeded in retaining State Farm within the city limits, but rumors abound that Hewlett-Packard will quit the city and consolidate elsewhere, perhaps Fort Collins and Loveland. Such a loss, coupled with the possible loss of ConAgra/Monfort, could cause Greeley and Weld County to strike out like a wounded bear, aggressively courting companies from Larimer County in a full-fledged economic-development war.

That’s one possible outcome from a shift by ConAgra to Larimer County, and one that would benefit no one. To avoid it, business leaders on both sides of the county line should tread lightly.

First of all, Greeley and Weld County business leaders should do exactly what they’re doing, namely stating their case to ConAgra execs. They should be careful, however, to focus not only on historical ties to the company but also on the benefits of conducting business in Greeley and Weld County.

Business leaders in Larimer County should refrain from being perceived as “stealing” ConAgra and Monfort. As sensitive as this issue is, such a perception could be devastating to regional cooperation.

Likewise, business leaders in Weld County should realize that ConAgra/Monfort will make its choice based on a business decision and that of paramount importance is to keep the operations in Northern Colorado. Additionally, the danger of losing both Monfort and HP should galvanize Greeley business leaders into addressing any issues that cause such companies to consider leaving in the first place.

No matter the outcome of the ConAgra/Monfort issue, let’s use this experience to build bridges, not tear them down.

Christopher Wood can be reached at (970) 221-5400, (970) 356-1683, (800) 440-3506 or via e-mail at cwood@ncbr.com. His fax number is (970) 221-5432.

Could Northern Colorado be headed for a full-fledged economic-development war?

That’s how serious the current situation is with Omaha-based ConAgra Inc.’s plans to consolidate some administrative operations in a new Northern Colorado site.

ConAgra, which employs thousands of workers from Greeley to Longmont, apparently is considering several locations for a consolidation of some administrative offices in Northern Colorado, including a potential new location for the Monfort Inc. corporate headquarters. Monfort now is based just north of Greeley, and ConAgra also occupies a floor in the Bank One building in downtown Greeley.

But what has business leaders in Greeley up in arms is not…

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