Think tank to help fuel Littleton’s economic future

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By Emile Hallez

Littleton is assembling a volunteer think tank to envision the city’s future economic development.
Over the course of six months, professionals in business, development and banking will hash out a plan the City Council would use for guidance — a step some council members said is necessary to help boost the city’s economic prosperity.
“I don’t think things like taxing the number of plastic bags and chickens you have aren’t important, but this is something we really need to be doing,” council member Jerry Valdes said during the April 10 study session, contrasting the think tank discussion to that of the prior week, when the council considered the maximum number of chickens allowed on residential property. “What I would not want to see is for the city to lead the group. I want these guys to come in and give us their plan. … I would like to see totally independent minds coming in, doing this in communities like ours and not like ours.”
Part of the plan is a council review of case studies of communities similar to and disparate from Littleton. Included in the discussion is an examination of Glendale’s recent boom.
“I have heard their story, and I have found it to be very inspiring,” Mayor Debbie Brinkman said, explaining that the Glendale case study is for informational purposes only. “They did some things other people were afraid to do. … I think it would help us to stretch our thinking and understand what other cities are trying to do.”
City staff are in the process of recruiting volunteers for the think tank, which is likely to have at least seven members. Most, if not all, of the volunteers will likely come from local businesses, though a few might represent larger, national companies, Brinkman said.
The only significant expense for the undertaking would likely be hiring a contractor to facilitate the think tank’s meetings, a measure to keep the group focused amid an ambitious deadline, Brinkman said.
“Frankly, I don’t even want to know who’s on it,” Brinkman said. “If we get a diverse group of people … they will provide us with what we need. If we start nitpicking too much, it turns into a group that is representing each of our individual interests. … It can be a group of seven. The bigger the group, the more complicated it can get.”
Despite the majority of the council’s vigorous support for the project, a few members were less enthusiastic, apprehensive about the think tank’s fit with Littleton’s small-town community.
“I’m worried that if we follow this approach with no council liaison, that what comes back to us is not rooted in Littleton,” said Councilman Phil Cernanec, explaining that the resulting recommendations could be beyond the city’s financial ability to implement. “What comes back are things that we would never even dream of … things like tax incentives and giveaways.”
Councilwoman Peggy Cole went a step further, characterizing the think tank as an unnecessary undertaking.
“I would prefer not to have a think tank. I would prefer we bring people to the council. … I’d like just to have more rigor with council, engaged with the kinds of people we’re talking about to go at this together, really big time,” Cole said. “We have the wonderful explanation of why properties haven’t been developed, but it’s not totally in anybody’s control. … We need to get the roadblocks out of the way without getting rid of the things that are really important.”
However, City Manager Michael Penny said the think tank’s members would be apprised of the community’s cultural values and educated about legal limitations in promoting economic growth through private business development.
And with a lengthy conversation focused on vague possibilities, Valdes suggested the council move forward with the measure and wait to see the resulting plan before rushing to judgment.
“I don’t think we should overthink the think tank,” he said.

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.