In an effort to help existing businesses expand and to attract new firms, an inventory of light industrial and office space available for lease or purchase is being compiled in La Plata County.
Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, said the alliance is also looking to compile attributes companies are seeking – such as a need for high ceilings or load-bearing floors.
“We’re finding, in real estate, the (multiple listing system) is only part of the picture,” he said. “There are properties that are not on the market yet. There is land that can be leased or sold or where you can build to suit. The idea is to get a much more complete inventory of what is available in La Plata County.”
In a request for information from land and building owners, Zalneraitis said he is working with four companies examining relocation that are looking for a total of 41,000 square feet – ranging from 20,000 square feet to 600 square feet. The companies have the potential to add 30 new jobs with an average annual salary of $42,000.
The first informational request the alliance sent out turned up two properties that were not on the market, and the second request discovered about a dozen spaces, Zalneraitis said.
“We’re starting to generate the response we want. People are saying, ‘I have this building and this land available,’ and some people may even begin examining if they can build something,” he said.
So far, Zalneraitis said the inventory has discovered about 10 acres of land that hasn’t been on the market and 20,000 square feet that has not been listed.
A link on the alliance’s website provides a form for companies interested in relocating or expanding in La Plata County to provide information about their companies and their space requirements.
Zalneraitis said the biggest challenge for companies looking to expand or move to La Plata County is finding a shovel-ready location that is zoned properly, has adequate space, and is priced at a point where a firm can begin to build in a matter of weeks.
Another business park in the county, whether it be at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, Bayfield or La Posta Road, would assist companies looking to grow or relocate, he said.
Bobby Lieb, who now resides in Houston and was behind a now-dormant effort to develop a 184-acre business park northwest of the airport, said the county’s current economic environment makes creation of a new business park a much more difficult proposition than it was before the Great Recession.
At the time Lieb was examining the airport business park, the natural gas industry was strong and the nearby BP regional office was expected to attract other natural gas service firms to the park.
Now, BP is looking to exit the San Juan Basin in the midst of a multi-year slump in the price of natural gas.
“Right now, without the natural gas industry, the market is not there. I wouldn’t recommend going forward,” Lieb said about development of a new business park.
Bob Wolff, who developed a good portion of the Durango Tech Center and several buildings at the Animas Air Park, said a combination of tighter bank lending since the Great Recession and increased regulation in Durango and La Plata County have killed the ability to develop light industrial space and office space on speculation.
“What small businesses need is inexpensive space to expand, and we don’t have that. If a gravel parking lot is all right for a business, it should be allowed, but right now, we’re kind of in regulation gridlock,” he said.
“If you need something less expensive, you’re out of luck. You look to New Mexico or Cortez.”