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When Vestas, a Dutch wind turbine manufacturer, announced last year it was shelling out $290 million to build two factories in Brighton, city leaders were understandably ecstatic. The agro-industrial city of 40,000 has been working for several years to boost its economic vitality, and the deal was a major coup. Thousands showed up for Vestas’ job fair in October, hoping to be one of the company’s 1,500 new hires.
When the downshifting economy forced Vestas to pump the brakes temporarily, Brighton’s burgeoning business appeal could have wavered, but the city still seems poised for a legitimate boom. In 2007, the Gadberry Group, a retail researcher, named Brighton the number two notable high-growth area in the country, and in November 2008, Forbes.com listed Adams County, where Brighton is the county seat, as one of the best places to ride out the economic downturn. Vestas plans to proceed with full operations by 2010, and Brighton’s strategic shift from agricultural roots to a more diverse community remains intact. “We’re retooling,” says Raymond Gonzales, president and CEO of the Brighton Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and a Brighton native. “The last couple of years, the EDC has worked hard to change that image of Brighton.”
Near downtown Brighton, an old armory is being converted to a performing arts center, which will share a city block with a new library and an open-air plaza. Other additions, like the new Platte Valley Medical Center and the Prairie Center, a $500 million mixed-use development that will host big-box stores and eateries, add to the revitalized vibe. Downtown is developing a LoDo feel, with bars and restaurants designed to incorporate the older brick façades. Business owners are optimistic about the city’s future. “I have nine buildings and only one vacancy,” says Gary Plock, owner of Pinocchio’s Italian Eatery in Brighton. “I don’t feel the economic pinch here that everybody talks about.”