Diversified Economic Growth
Logan County, CO
The Logan County Economic Development Corporation non-profit organization was created in 2001 to manage business inquiries, handle prospective businesses that are looking to relocate sites and work with existing business on potential expansion opportunities. It also assists with any other demands that may be present in the community including workforce limitations, training needs or housing issues. It facilitates discussions between local government amenities and local offices to help processes run as smoothly as possible.
Logan County was officially established in 1887 as an agricultural community in northeast Colorado. Cattle production was one of the first industries in the area, dating back to cattle baron John W. Iliff in the 1870s. Sugar beet production was another one of the earliest industries introduced to the area, and the Great Western Sugar Mill in Sterling was built in 1905, which encouraged new immigration to the county from those looking to work in the industry. Today the former sugar mill sits vacant and idle on nearly 200 acres of industrial developable land. One of the few places in Colorado with existing rail infrastructure served by both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads, LCEDC has hopes that investment will someday bring the iconic property back into productive use.
The county experienced gradual, steady growth over the years, and today, the population is approximately twenty-two thousand overall, and the city of Sterling, which is the county seat for Logan County, is the commercial hub for over sixty thousand people in the surrounding rural region.
The largest employer in the area is the Sterling Correctional Facility, which is the biggest prison in the Colorado Department of Corrections systems and employs over eight hundred people. Many residents in Logan County work in the education and healthcare sectors – about three hundred residents each. According to the 2017 CO Dept of Labor and Employment database, 15 percent of the workforce – 1,245 people – are employed in health care and social services sector and 10 percent – 797 – are in education. Sterling is a regional hub for healthcare, with a full service hospital, specialty clinics, cancer treatment, dialysis, mental health services, and health and wellness providers. Education options include early childhood education through to community college with both academic and technical programs.
Several private industries are substantial employers. Nichols Tillage & Tools has employment numbers that vary based on the seasonality of its products. Wisdom Rides, the manufacturer of amusement rides for carnivals, is located on the western edge of the county, and there are several other machine shops and small-scale manufacturers in the region employing a total of 400 to 500 workers.
The diversity of the economy is one of the area’s strengths, as it does not rely on one primary employer with the ability to leave and cripple the community. The unemployment rate is currently hovering around two percent, if one employer leaves the county, there are other positions available in a variety of fields.
Several years ago the county took proactive steps to work with the Colorado State Land Board to purchase one hundred acres near the Logan County landfill site, as the land surrounding the site could eventually become available for future expansions, and the county is preparing for future growth in the area. The property is conveniently located off Highway 6 and close to Interstate 76 and is also a short distance to the Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado Railway.
Logan County developed one of the first commercial wind farms in Colorado. Construction began in the early 2000s, and the industry has expanded significantly since then. “We have several hundred megawatts of capacity and three different wind farms under different ownership throughout the county. It has been a huge value in terms of tax base for the county and support for the communities where those [wind farms] are located,” says Trae Miller, the executive director of Logan County Economic Development Corporation. The wind farms also generate a substantial amount of temporary employment in the area through construction positions during installation.
Producing electricity is only one of the many ways the wind farms affect the communities in Logan County. The Northeastern Junior College worked with the wind turbine companies to create a Wind Turbine Technician Program offered through the college. The program has become very well-known and is highly regarded across the country. It has nearly a one hundred percent placement rate for its graduates in positions that range anywhere from twenty to thirty dollars an hour.
“It has started to lead into more industrial placements of students as well. It is definitely something that can lead to future opportunities for industrial development and business growth in this area, as we are training a strong workforce to go into those types of businesses and to perform very well,” says Trae.
Wind is only one piece of a long history in energy production. A large portion of the Logan County economy was founded on oil and gas exploration. Throughout boom and bust oil cycles, the community has grown and diversified with oil exploration businesses and support services. Other more recent developments include high capacity interstate natural gas lines, crude oil pipeline transportation and tank storage, and underground cavern gas storage. The energy industry provides good jobs to the area, attracts other related businesses to the area, and builds a strong local tax base.
The county has very solid agriculture and energy sectors. There is much food and agriculture production in northeastern Colorado, which is something that the Logan County Economic Development Corporation sees as a potential to attract more business growth and development in the area. “One area where we see a path to successful economic growth is in the ag sector. One new business in 2017 was an ag specific machine shop. Our proximity to the larger multi-state region of cattle feeding operations made Sterling an attractive option for their new facility. Currently, I have several other ag related projects that I am working with to help make Logan County the best option for their business location.”
“We have a very strong transportation network when it comes to the value for businesses and even for distribution and warehousing operations,” says Trae. The county has three railroads; the Union Pacific, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and the Nebraska Kansas Colorado Railway. “Over twenty-four miles of that railroad is dual-served, meaning that businesses that locate along that portion of the line can have equal access both from the BNSF and the Union Pacific, which is a very unique asset that we have.” The interstate, the railroads and the six state highways that converge in Logan County make the county an excellent hub for transportation.
Another advantage for businesses is Logan County’s broadband access. Unlike many other rural areas, the county is equipped with an extensive broadband network that provides a great internet connection. There is a gigabit fiber throughout the community; the majority of the Sterling area has the option to receive gigabit fiber directly to the premise. Sterling has greater broadband access and internet capacity than some of the Denver metropolitan areas.
Logan County has low-cost energy options with its renewable resources including solar and wind energy, plus traditional resources like abundant natural gas, and Trae is excited about the possibilities. “There is potential for private developments to serve commercial facilities or utility scale productions. We are seeing more growth in that especially as the state of Colorado is looking at what the future of renewable energy production is going to be.”
The economic development team is hoping to build tourism to the area. The eastern plains of Colorado are not usually considered a tourist destination as many visitors and Front Range residents consider the Colorado experience to be the mountains. However, there has been an increase in agricultural-based tourism – or agri-tourism – in the area.
“We’re seeing more of that [tourism] out here in this part of the state as there is more interest in agri-tourism. We are seeing people from metro areas that want to come out and learn more about ag production and where their food is coming from,” says Trae. “There are several entities throughout the region that have taken on a more formal agri-tourism approach, whether it be corn mazes or other types of farm activities.”
One initiative that was taken by the city of Sterling to attract more tourists was to develop the Overland Trail Recreation Area, which includes multi-use trail systems, fishing ponds, potential camping areas and kayaking and whitewater rafting activities that will all use the South Platte River that runs through the community. Sterling has worked diligently to create the master plan for the park and has a vision to create a ten-mile bicycle trail loop that will completely encircle the city. “We have a ton of amenities in the way of our state park and reservoir. We actually have three reservoirs that touch Logan County, and they are major assets,” says Trae.
The historical and cultural amenities in the community make Sterling a distinctive place to live or visit. Its fantastic downtown area is a national historic district with buildings from the early 1900s still standing. The Logan County courthouse on Main Street in the heart of downtown Sterling is a beautiful building built in the late 1800s.
Logan County offers affordable living combined with competitive advantages for business and a high quality of life. In the last few years downtown Sterling has been rebuilding the vibrancy of its downtown area with over 15 new businesses including a variety of small stores and restaurants, and the downtown district now has its own microbrewery. The businesses include a diverse mix of places like Parts and Labor Brewing Co., Simkins Parlour, Sam and Louie’s Italian and Pizzeria, Perfectly Polished Day Lounge, Ella J’s clothing boutique, Country Creations custom apparel and embroidery, Apex Physical Therapy, and Sacred Matter Glass Works.
“We need to change the perception of our community. We are often viewed as being just a small, rural town in the middle of nowhere, and a lot of people, even within Colorado, don’t realize how much we have to offer or how close we really are to the metro area. You can be in downtown Denver from Sterling in two hours,” says Trae. The Logan County Economic Development Corporation is working to re-brand and market the region to correct any misconceptions and to bring attention to the growth potential, opportunities, new developments and vast lifestyle and recreational options that Logan County has to offer.