Written By: Bart Taylor

Builders and manufacturers share space in the economy. They’re makers. They create things. It’s interesting then that circumstances are bringing them together in a meaningful collaboration.

Developers are increasingly motivated to build new mixed-use projects with light industry a key component. City planners favor the mix. Industry brings jobs and tax revenue. It pays for itself and more.

The industry of choice is increasingly maker and manufacturing businesses. Despite a lingering stereotype, today’s manufacturing surge looks different, more appealing. It’s advanced, clean, tech-driven, green and growing in lifestyle sectors that communities want to highlight – not hide.

It’s a fortuitous alignment. The result may be the development of a new generation of mixed-use, industry-and-family friendly spaces that literally reshape our city landscapes. Colorado’s award of a national digital manufacturing hub will only help.

McWHINNEY, a prominent real-estate company, developer and builder, sees the convergence of interests and is an advocate.

“For so many years our development pattern has been that industrial is dirty, and needs to put in the backyard, so to speak”, says Taber Sweet, McWHINNEY’s director of development. “I could show you the spaces we’re contemplating today – light, energy efficient, simple construction techniques. In the past when people say ‘mixed-use’, industrial was the piece that got left out – but going forward I think it’s the piece that gets integrated.

“If you go up to (Denver’s) River North, on Brighton Boulevard , you have The Source (eateries, office) next to these great craftsman and artisans, welders or carbon fiber guys; and that’s what makes River North really tick now…It’s interesting to see how that use (industry) is being integrated.”

The integration also makes financial sense, says Trae Rigby, chief development officer at McWHINNEY. “As an integrated real estate/development company, we’re trying to be ‘evergreen’ – profitable in all cycles. These types of projects can accomplish that for us, where we own everything long-term, where we tend to ‘asset-manage’ our own buildings so that when things slow down, and we don’t build anything in the next 3 or 4 years, income will come in from a variety of sources and give us a lot of flexibility.”

Colorado’s at the epicenter of the trend, says Sweet. “There’s no mystery why we’re (McWHINNEY) here. Colorado is incredibly well positioned nationally from a geographical standpoint – we’re central, with transportation infrastructure. And Denver has this incredible industrial core based on a rich history of energy and mineral rights.

“But I think more than anything, we have such a highly educated populace that Colorado is really the next big logical spot for incubation”, says Sweet. “And for us, I believe we’re talking about a product that’s a blend of office, R&D, lab, advanced manufacturing, and light industrial. It’s a great opportunity for the state.”

Other developer/builders see similar opportunity in light industry and manufacturing. Shawn Sullivan, vice president for business development at The Neenan Company, is focused on the craft-brewing segment. “Most successful brewers quickly outgrow their space”, Sullivan says. “As they get a foothold in the market, they make more beer, and to do that they need more equipment and a larger facility.”

Sullivan works with brewers to build new space, but he’s also a cheerleader for the sector. “We’re helping brewers understand how much space they’ll need and when – and how to manage that growth financially. But we’re excited about what’s happening here, with craft brewing and other parts of the maker and manufacturing economy. We view this as a partnership with industry.”

It’s a collaborative approach playing out to mutual benefit for all involved – foremost the communities prescient enough to drive the public-private partnerships required for the large, integrated developments that Sweet and Rigby are enthused about.

Colorado only stands to gain in the regional competition for a new and modern industrial base.

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