City of Fountain pitching itself to national retailers

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Fountain Economic Development Director Lisa Cochrun stands near a burgeoning residential community. She is working to balance the retail growth with city’s speedy population growth.

City seeks business in order to fund services, support growth

Fountain Economic Development Director Lisa Cochrun is heading to Vegas this month to sell big retailers on her small town.

She will tell them that Fountain’s population has grown 159 percent since 1990; its 27,461 residents are better educated and have more income than in years past; and more people own their homes than in the rest of the county.

Those numbers represent economic strength and buying power, but there are a limited number of places where Fountain residents can eat and shop. So, they head out of town.

This year, Fountain residents will spend $351 million on goods and services in neighboring communities, like Colorado Springs and Pueblo. She wants to keep that money and those sales tax dollars in Fountain’s coffers.

“There is an opportunity here,” Cochrun said. “Retail overdid itself in some areas. They didn’t pick the right spot because they didn’t pick Fountain.”

Cochrun will tell Fountain’s story to the 1,000 retail executives in Las Vegas at the International Council of Shopping Centers RECon 2012, where 20,000 attendees will be trying to make deals.

“Eighty-five percent of every retail site to open in the U.S. will be decided at this conference,” Cochrun said.

She’ll walk the length of 10 football fields handing out Fountain’s demographic details on disc and tell real estate experts that Fountain has grown at twice the rate of the rest of the county.

“You want to be familiar to them, so they pick up the phone and call you,” Cochrun said. “We are one of the few bright spots.”

Fountain is growing up, said Fred Crowley, economist and owner of Crowley’s Consulting Inc. who was hired by the city to examine every aspect of city’s development. Crowley will present his report to the Fountain City Council May 9.

He has, in the past, studied the town, which is about 10 miles southwest of Colorado Springs and directly east from Fort Carson. Still, he was impressed to discover Fountain’s increased education and income levels.

Back in 1990, about 5 percent of Fountain’s residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher. Now, about 23 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That equates to more professional jobs and higher incomes, Crowley said.

Fountain residents used to work more in production and construction and now work more in management and service occupations. And, Fountain’s residents are keeping pace on household income with the rest of the county; Crowley projects they will surpass the rest of the county by 2014. That’s a dramatic shift, he said.

“I knew of Fountain’s evolution,” Crowley said. “It’s no longer in evolutionary mode — it’s revolutionary.”

But, now Fountain has got to grow in all sectors, including commercial development, or it will grow itself into one large bedroom community which can’t provide such city services as fire and police for its growing population, he said. Although Fountain represents 8 percent of El Paso’s population growth, it has only captured 2.8 percent of all commercial permits in the same period. This has stunted retail stores, and limited the sales tax dollars going into the general fund, he said.

“Growth has created challenges of essential services,” he said.

Sleepy town wakes up

Dorothy Christian Boyd and her neighbors used to sit on the fence and watch cattle-runs through Fountain when they were kids. They had to make sure the laundry was off the line, or the cows would run through it, she said.

Fountain was founded in 1859 as a ranching and farming community with access to the railroads. It even once competed to become the state’s capital.

Boyd doesn’t want folks to forget Fountain’s history. She is the secretary of Fountain Valley Historical Society and a member of the Fountain Valley Preservation Association. The natives, she said, want to preserve both historic buildings and the way of life.

“You have to know where you came from to know where you going,” Boyd said. “Everyone wants to know their roots.”

Mayor Jeri Howells, who has lived in Fountain since 1965, said it’s a tough balancing act ensuring the town’s heritage while marching it into the future.

“But, I believe in the concept of growth,” she said. “And, not just growth for growth’s sake — it can bring so much progress to the area.”

Fountain stayed small until the mid-1990s, when its population slowly crossed the 10,000 population point and continued up. Ten years ago, Fountain hired its first economic development director, Lisa Cochrun. Howells, who was a county commissioner at the time, wasn’t sure the town needed one, she said. But, it proved to be a turning point, she said.

“It was a good move,” she said.

Since then, Fountain represents about 7.7 percent of all population growth in El Paso County. Developers are building three-car-garage homes and apartments on Fountain’s plains.

“Fountain was a sleeper for a long time,” Howells said. “Now, it’s wide awake.”

Fountain has captured 8 percent of single-family permits in El Paso County since 1990. And homeownership went from 56.3 percent to 69.5 percent, a higher rate than the rest of the county, Crowley said. And, more homeowners are reinvesting in their homes proving they want to stay.

“There was a time when quality housing was hard to come by,” Howells said.

Now, it seems sporting goods and clothing stores are hard to come by.

The city is ready to court any business, big or small, who wants to come to Fountain, said Fountain City Manager Scott Trainor. He assembled a quick response team of sanitation, transportation, utilities and building officials to roll out the red carpet for new business and cut the approval time by more than half. The QRT assembled recently to court Culver’s restaurant, which has started construction.

“Besides the speed, it ends up being more about the positive relationship,” Trainor said. “When you are the business, it seems like the town wants you there.”

The city also is offering new businesses rebates on sales-tax bills for their first five years of business. They want everything from a data center to sit-down restaurants, Trainor said.

Build it and they will come

Fountain residents want to shop in Fountain, Crowley said. Fountain’s retail sales grew from $112 million in 1990 to $398 million in 2011.

Despite that growth, it’s not enough to keep up with the population, Crowley said. A closer look at the numbers shows that retail sales per capita is lower in Fountain than the rest of the county. It’s because people are spending their money in stores outside of Fountain, Crowley said.

In 2009, there were 144 retail trade and local resident service businesses in Fountain. But, for its size, there should be at least 197.

There is no department store in Fountain and the town needs at least 4 more food and beverage stores, six health and personal care stores, nine more clothing stores and 10 more gift, pet and art stores.

“Currently population trends suggest Fountain will need 84 additional retail trade firms by 2022 to provide residents the opportunity to make their household purchases without having to shop outside the community,” Crowley said.

Retailers, he said, should consider that there are 149,597 people who live within a 15 to 20 minute drive of the Mesa Ridge shopping center in Fountain.

“Fountain has a significant potential to become a regional shopping center with its two exits along I-25,” Crowley said. “The local population is underserved.”

Cochrun will have three days this month to convince shopping center real estate professionals from around the world that Fountain is where they need to be. She hammered away at Wal-Mart and Lowes until they came. She’ll hammer away for more, she said.

“We want citizens to have the full plate of the services they want,” Cochrun said. “It concerns me. It forces our citizens to drive — time is something you don’t get back.”

Fountain Growing Up

From 1990 to 2010, population increased 159 percent

Since 1990, housing units grew by 153 percent, three times the rate of all of El Paso County

Since 1990 Fountain captured 8 percent of El Paso County’s new single-family permits

Homeownership grew from 56.3 percent in 1990 to 69.5 percent in 2010 — higher than homeowner rates for all of El Paso County.

In 1990, 5.5 percent of residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher. In 2010, it was 22.8 percent

In 1990, 12 percent of residents worked in management. In 2010, it was 31.8 percent

In 1990, median household income was $24,136. In 2010, it was $54,902