I recently took a tour of one of Pueblo’s biggest employment centers. And it had been hiding in plain sight from me since I moved here about a year and a half ago.
No, it wasn’t the EVRAZ steel mill, which looms over the city’s skyline as you approach town from just about any angle.
It wasn’t the shops and restaurants of Union Avenue. Or the banks and other businesses located on or near Main Street and Santa Fe Avenue.
This was a trip through the Airport Industrial Park, which is as impressive as it is understated.
Oh, I’ve driven by the park many times before, sometimes on my way to Pueblo Memorial Airport or other points east. And, as I wrote about some time back, I’ve been inside the United States Government Printing Office, which is located within the park.
But it’s easy to not really see the whole park for what it is, which is a terrific economic asset to our community.
I toured the park with Jeff Shaw, president and chief executive officer of the Pueblo Economic Development Corp., and Dennis Darrow, the Chieftain’s business editor, who are probably laughing as they read this column because I’m marveling at something that is so familiar to them.
But I’ll make no apologies for that. The park covers about 1,000 acres of land, which seems like a lot to me. About 50 businesses are located there, employing 2,500 full-time employees.
And there’s still room for more companies to move in. Shaw said the park is about two-thirds occupied. Even though some of the land probably isn’t suitable for development due to rough terrain (I never knew the meaning of the word “arroyo” until I moved to Pueblo), there’s still plenty of space for more good job-creating companies.
Some of the ones already there are pretty amazing. There’s Doss Aviation, the flight training center on a sprawling campus that includes its own cafeteria, pub bar and dormitories that Shaw described as “the biggest hotel in Pueblo.”
Trane makes commercial water coolers. Bechtel offers simulated training on the handling and disposal of mustard gas. Kurt Manufacturing does high-precision machining work. United Technologies provides carbon brakes for aircraft.
Then there’s Big R, which builds developmental rockets. And there’s United Launch Alliance, which provides jet propulsion testing. (“That’s a great tour,” Shaw joked, “because you can’t understand anything they’re talking about.”)
But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to find meaningful employment at the park.
Coca Cola has a distribution facility there. So does Target. Russ Davis Wholesale Foods is ramping up production of a vegetable and fruit processing and distribution center. Atlas Pacific provides research, development and manufacturing for fruit processing equipment.
Noting the stacks of wooden crates inside Atlas Pacific’s building, Shaw quipped: “It reminds me of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’” I had the same thought myself.
I’m almost afraid to mention Haddonstone, which makes garden fountains, vases and other ornamental products that my wife surely will want to buy if she reads this column.
Some of the businesses located there provide goods and services I didn’t realize anyone needed, like TR Toppers, which chops up candy so it can be processed and packaged.
While much of the work done in the park involves manufacturing, other types of businesses are located there as well.
There’s the National Weather Service’s local office, which I hope to tour separately someday. And the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administrative Services and the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District.
What amazed me most about my tour was that Shaw said most of the people who work in the park are local hires, many of whom were trained through Pueblo Community College. That kind of job training is providing a huge benefit to our community that I hope people who live here appreciate.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m going to take my in-laws on a tour of the industrial park the next time they’re in town. A lot of the buildings aren’t particularly pretty to look at. The park isn’t in a lush neighborhood where you feel tempted to linger over a latte and scones. The truth is, it’s about as isolated as anything in a town the size of Pueblo can be.
It also may be as important to Pueblo’s economic well being as any other place I’ve visited.
Blake Fontenay, The Chieftain's opinion page editor, is new to Pueblo. His column, Pueblo 101, describes what it's like to see the city through the eyes of a newcomer. To make comments or offer suggestions on what he should try next, email him at email@example.com.