Recruited three years ago from an economic development position in the State of Maine, Elish's tenure has been fraught with infighting between member cities and companies of NCEDC. Created in 2001, the NCEDC is a 501(c)(6) corporation that relies on funding from Larimer County, Loveland, Ft. Collins, Timnath, Berthoud, and a number of private companies that also serve on the board of directors. Its mission is to retain and attract employers to Northern Colorado in coordination with local communities. Elish is the second NCEDC President to abruptly resign amid controversy; the first was Maury Dobbie in 2009.
If visitors to Loveland's City Hall today heard party horns and cheers it may have been the news of Elish's resignation spreading throughout the building. Loveland economic development officials have accused Elish of giving away leads for new businesses moving into the area first to Ft. Collins and even swinging the important Woodard Inc. move to Ft. Collins instead of Centerra in Loveland. Elish was reported to have pushed a Ft. Collins site which is still being prepared for the eventual move out of Loveland by Woodward off of Wilson Blvd.
Loveland developer McWhinney, following the Woodward deal, has also been critical of Elish's leadership. McWhinney is reported by regional economic development officials to be forming its own economic development corporation outside the NCEDC out of frustration with both Elish and the board's recent direction. McWhinney's newly created group is reported to be exclusively funded by private entities to "keep loudmouth local politicians" away from the business leads.
Problems between McWhinney and government participants in NCEDC go back to 2007 when McWhinney tried to lure the Embassy Suites Hotel deal away from Larimer County. Then Director of the Larimer County 'Ranch,' Jay Hardy, later joined McWhinney and continued lobbying Embassy Suites but for Centerra instead of the newly established county fairgrounds. Hardy, now Vice President and General Manager of McWhinney, is rumored to be recruiting the current NCEDC members into McWhinney's new organization for regional economic development. Elish's departure is said to have been precipitated, in part, due to insecurity by his staff combined with unstable leadership on the board unable to stop McWhinney from forming a new rival non-profit economic development group for Northern Colorado.
Paul Mueller, Managing Director of Mueller & Associates CPA, was elected NCEDC board Chairman late last year and described his new position as, "living the dream" on his company's website. Apparently, one man's dream can be another's nightmare as a number of member companies and contributors have subsequently either began complaining or departed the organization already. Mueller, a Houston transplant who arrived in Loveland in 2008, attempted a run for Loveland City Council in 2012 but was defeated by Councilman Dave Clark. Mueller also "innovated" for Loveland the disastrous "Creative Sector Committee."
Mueller's failed campaign for Loveland City Council included "occupy Loveland" radicals as volunteers while Mueller also supported efforts in Loveland to ban fracking. Last year, Mueller put Larimer County support of NCEDC in jeopardy when his self described "progressive" activism clashed with his board responsibilities. Mueller posted on Facebook numbers of signatures he needed to recall Thompson Board of Education President Bob Kerrigan, angering one Republican Larimer County Commissioner who saw Mueller's advocacy for recalling a local official as a stain on the NCEDC's legal standing as a non-political, non-profit organization. Despite warnings by some on the NCEDC board, Mueller is reported to have continued his high-profile partisan activities with the support of some far-left board member companies. Heiress Patricia Stryker's Bohemian Companies is on the board and contributes to the group's left-leaning reputation while reportedly defending Mueller.
Elish's resignation is seen as further evidence the NCEDC may no longer be a going concern unless Stryker or some other wealthy donor decides to intervene with larger contributions to keep the group going. Members of Loveland's City Council indicated they have been advised by staff not to renew Loveland's annual $50,000 contribution given the perceived bias towards Ft. Collins while Larimer County officials are likely to protest Mueller's position as board chairman. According to one Loveland official, "if Walt goes to work for Ft. Collins' economic development he can continue doing the same job he was already doing at the NCEDC; representing only Ft. Collins' interests."
Walter Elish, President and CEO of NCEDC (Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation)