AEDC touts banner year for Aurora jobs

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AURORA | At more than 360,000 square feet, UPS’ newest distribution facility in Aurora could fit close to 80 NBA-sized basketball courts.

Still, that massive new facility in the East Park 70 industrial park is dwarfed by one of its neighbors just down the road: The more than 1-million-square foot Amazon fulfillment facility that also opened last year.

Together, those two projects — both employing hundreds of full-time employees, both creating hundreds of construction jobs and both marking a time Aurora lured a big-name international brand to the Interstate 70 corridor — are just two of the 11 deals the Aurora Economic Development Council made during a record-breaking 2017.

“In 2017, we brought in a record-breaking 2,500 plus primary jobs that added quality, diverse employment opportunities for our workforce. These have a significant ripple effect in secondary job creation as well.  Our 11 deals drove nearly $290 million in capital investment into our community,” Wendy Mitchell, president and CEO of AEDC, said in a statement this week.

AEDC, which is a quasi-governmental agency receiving funding from the city of Aurora, Arapahoe County, Adams County and various private businesses, is tasked with luring companies to Aurora.

The Amazon and UPS deals top the list from 2017 — and fulfill one of AEDC’s long-stated goals of attracting big-name companies — and add to a growing number of distribution and warehouse facilities popping up along the bustling I-70 corridor near Denver International Airport.

But Mitchell said AEDC is aiming to attract a broad mix of business. Among the 11 deals AEDC swung in 2017 were a deal for an aerospace company and a bioscience company, but Mitchell said details on those companies could not be released because of a confidentiality agreement. Still, when those distribution companies come knocking, Mitchell said AEDC will always listen.

“We are never going to turn down any company,” she said.

AEDC lead the charge to lure the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center to Aurora and that game-changing project is set to open its doors later this year.

That deal included more than $300 million in tax breaks for the hotel giant, a detail that lead to criticism of the project and even a court fight.

Mitchell said AEDC won’t shy away from those sorts of incentives, but they work hard to be judicious about how they use them, applying them in only one of every five deals.

“We will use them if we need to,” she said.

Mitchell called Gaylord “transformational.” That massive project, as well as other development near DIA in the so-called “Aerotropolis,” are combining with light rail to change the face of Aurora, she said.

“The perception of Aurora is shifting and businesses know the city is the perfect place to do business,” Mitchell added.

Yuriy Gorlov, AEDC’s vice president, said the challenge with incentives is explaining to the public how they work and why they are important, but economic development officials have long had to respond to criticisms of the deals.

Going forward, AEDC officials said they expect the opening of Gaylord to be a big selling point for development near the hotel.

Mitchell said other Gaylord locations across the country usually spark other projects, whether it is other hotels, outlet shopping centers or something else.

Also, Gorlov said, with the opening of RTD’s R Line through Aurora, AEDC expects to continue to use that light rail line as a major selling point for businesses looking to be close to public transit.