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Milstead: On Second Thought, ConocoPhillips' Deal at Louisville is "Big"

September 02, 2008
Rocky Mountain News MILSTEAD: On second thought, ConocoPhillips' deal at Louisville is 'big' By David Milstead Originally published 09:05 p.m., August 5, 2008 Updated 05:35 a.m., August 6, 2008 I have been wrong before. The best example, still, is my June 2001 article "Is Joe Nacchio underpaid?" which I restated in August 2002. I will not take as long to publish second thoughts about another piece, "A big deal, I guess, but not that big," written the afternoon we learned about ConocoPhillips' new Louisville operation. Consider the circumstances that February day: After months of speculation about high-profile names like Google and Microsoft, we learned it would instead be ConocoPhillips that would purchase the former StorageTek campus for $58.5 million. It seemed to be an inconvenient truth for Gov. Bill Ritter, who has made alternative energy the centerpiece of his economic-development policy. Colorado's newest corporate citizen was a multinational oil company. So what Ritter had to say that day - the facility would include a research center for alternative energy - sounded like enviro-spin. Few details were forthcoming from ConocoPhillips. The highly secret site-selection process spilled over into the "announcement." No company officials flew to Colorado, leaving the governor to break the news in front of a few hundred puzzled asphalt contractors at a Holiday Inn. Most importantly, no one could say how many employees ConocoPhillips would have at the site. How many of those highly educated high-earning engineering types would we get? We now have more answers. The company says it could employ 7,000 two decades from now. That, said Tom Clark, head of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., would translate into a $400 million to $500 million annual payroll. "Only four area private-sector, non-retail employers - Qwest Communications, HealthONE, Lockheed Martin, and Exempla Healthcare - have more than 7,000 workers today, according to Clark’s group. And one of the two buildings slated to open in 2012 will indeed be for new-energy research. In the economic-development game, I have a preference for headquarters. They bring a wide variety of professional jobs in finance and human resources. They seem to give more to charity and the community than an ancillary operation. And when times are tough, cutting seems to occur first at a company's outposts. (It should be noted that the whole reason the campus was available is that the StorageTek headquarters was taken out in an acquisition.) Still, now that we know the scope of the project and its prospects, I retract the view that it's "not that big a deal." Ritter continues his environmental boosterism, saying recently that "Colorado is emerging as the world's research center for wind and solar." I remain skeptical about the viability of alternative energy, but we'll at least have thousands of well-paid ConocoPhillips employees working on it. © Rocky Mountain News