FORT LUPTON — A $2.5 million gamble among town officials two years ago is paying off in spades and putting this small town in south Weld County on the map.
The gamble, a 2-mile extension of the city’s water and sewer lines in 2010 to keep a rapidly growing Halliburton Energy Services planted firmly in town, is now showing up in sales taxes, building permits, housing, jobs and local businesses.
Halliburton alone is infusing more than $70 million in Weld County this year. Including its “expanded” expansion in Fort Lupton, the company also is building a sand and gravel terminal in Windsor, in the Great Western Industrial Park. Both should be completed by the end of the year. By then, the company will have 800 employees, mostly in Fort Lupton.
“Halliburton has been operating in Fort Lupton for over 40 years and has a long history of partnering with our customers and the Weld County community,” said Randy Yeager, vice president of the Halliburton’s Rockies area, in a prepared statement. “The growing horizontal activity and complexity of the Niobrara play has driven our increased investment in people and equipment.”
Melissa Rickman said growth happened almost overnight through her doors.
“We went from having decent lunches to amazing lunches,” said Rickman, who opened Wholly Stromboli East Coast Eatery on Denver Avenue two years ago. “We’ve seen probably an increase of about $400-$500 per lunch shift.”
All eyes turn south, toward Halliburton, which has anchored this town’s industrial structure since 1972.
Halliburton came into the fall of 2010 with 125 employees, chugging along in town as it had for 40 years. But by then, services were out of date, and Halliburton officials contemplated a move.
Newly elected Mayor Tommy Horton said he wasn’t about to watch his hometown be shuttered with such a loss.
“We wanted to keep them here,” Holton said, noting Halliburton had drilled the well on his parents’ farm. “We all realized it was very serious. If we didn’t complete the (water and sewer) pipeline, there was not much hope.”
They sat down and hammered out a deal. Halliburton would front the costs to build the pipeline, then get reimbursed with future hookups.
It convinced the company to stay in town, and grow there.
“We oversized it for growth,” Holton said of the line. “We spent $1.4 million (paving) County Road 8, put in a light, then started getting interest from other companies. I don’t know who is going to walk in the door next.”
Halliburton had planned a $20 million expansion at its 57-acre plot at the south end of town, but has since put in building permits for more than $35 million in expansions, said Claud Hanes, city administrator.
“They had planned to stage it all out, but they were jumping stages,” Hanes said of the now sprawling campus that straddles the east and west side of the railroad tracks along Weld County roads 8 and 27.
“And they’re out of room,” added Holton.
In 2011, Halliburton pulled building permits for the expansion totaling almost $32 million. This year, the company pulled building permits worth an extra $940,000. That’s just the value of the bricks and mortar. More Halliburton construction is still in the planning stages, Holton said. Already, the Fort Lupton campus is now the company’s second largest in the Rockies, Yeager said.
Halliburton’s expansion, along with the new water and sewer line, also has prompted new business to come to town. Just north of Halliburton, Weir Oil and Gas, a global company that services the oil and gas industry, and Legend Energy Services out of Oklahoma are building side by side, with plans of bringing about 120 more jobs to the area, Holton said. That doesn’t count the two explosive companies, one for sure, that are planning a Fort Lupton address.
“The last boom hit the Tri-Towns — Brighton, Greeley and Evans — and Fort Lupton was just sitting here,” Hanes said. “Now it’s our turn. I kept saying, when it breaks, it’s going to be like a rocket.”
Sales taxes are up 29 percent through May receipts, and developers are calling to start housing, hotels and other businesses.
“Our housing prices have gone up 62 percent,” Holton said.
The Denver Metro Area Realtors Association backs him up, reporting the growth in median sales prices from June 2011 to June 2012; average sales prices on homes going up 199 percent in that time.
It’s a good thing that a developer recently bought 44 lots to build homes. Inventory, as in Greeley, is low.
And with Halliburton, the number of oil and gas workers in town has more than doubled in the last three years to 256.
Holton and Hanes say they’re having the time of their lives, but they’re also being aggressive to bring the jobs to this small town with a population of 7,500, but with enough water rights to balloon to 20,000.
Halliburton’s growth, alone, can be seen in Rickman’s lunch customers.
“Especially yesterday, I would say three out of four tables that walked in the door were Halliburton workers,” Rickman said this week. “But oil and gas in general, all the oil field workers have been amazing to our business.”
Rickman, though only in business for two years, is already buying the building in which she’s located and will expand into the basement with banquet facilities and to the adjoining business to the south of her to open a quick-serve spot for breakfast and lunch for people on the go.
“Everyone thought I was crazy to open an Italian restaurant in Fort Lupton,” Rickman said. ”They thought, ‘You don’t have the market.’ ”
The leaders now talk about joining in with Brighton to the south to create an energy corridor, and possibly work on a joint marketing plan. The sewer line, alone, allows the town an extra 1,500 to 2,000 acres ripe for industrial development.
Holton and Hanes continue to be aggressive in recruiting as many companies to town as they can. It’s all about job growth and survival. They know the boom will someday bust — though at least not for 10 years — and they’ll need more diversity of businesses to sustain their town.
“Halliburton put us on the map,” Holton said. “We’ve been very aggressive about promoting our town. We’re trying to get a tractor supply store. There’s no place in town to buy a pair of socks. When I was a kid, you could buy anything you wanted in town. But all those dollars now leave.
“We decided we wanted companies here,” Holton said. “We make contact immediately. We go to headquarters and start courting. It’s a struggle. If you don’t ask, they can’t tell you no. We just keep beating on the door.”