The Economics of Anythink

A library’s revitalization has direct fiscal benefits for its community

May 1, 2012

Anythink sign

Education, access, and freedom of information are all worthy reasons to fund public libraries. Yet rarely is the economic ripple effect of these institutions touted as part of a library’s worth. The revolution at the Rangeview Library District in Adams County, Colorado, which included seven new or renovated branches and the creation of the Anythink brand, has directly affected hundreds of lives by putting people to work—and that’s above and beyond customers finding jobs using library computers, attending job seminars, and gaining the knowledge they need to succeed.

“The impact the library’s capital construction project has had on the Adams County community is significant,” said Erik Hansen, Adams County Commissioner and former mayor of Thornton, the county’s largest city. “Any time we can educate our residents, we’re making a huge economic impact. What [Anythink Libraries] is doing is really important and something the residents of Thornton should be proud of.”

If you build it, they will work

The library’s capital construction projects from 2008 to 2011 were not only a huge boon for library customers who got beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities, but also for the struggling construction industry.

For Humphries Poli Architects and their partners, the projects employed an average of 18.5 people over the course of each project, a figure that includes architects, engineers, energy consultants, and interior designers.

Denver contractor Fransen Pittman worked on the four new library buildings, along with a total of 100 subcontracting companies and an average of 38 subs on each project. The number of individuals who worked on these projects—from electricians to landscapers to project managers—tops off in the hundreds.

“The Anythink library projects at Brighton, Huron Street, Bennett Farms and Wright Farms had a positive effect on Adams County and Fransen Pittman when our economy was in an increasingly negative place,” said John Pittman, president of Fransen Pittman. “The four library construction projects helped the local economy by putting Adams County and many other nearby community people to work and set an encouraging example for other libraries around the United States.”

Creating destinations

Justin Sager, project manager with Wember, Inc., worked with the library district for five years. He was integral in ensuring the capital construction projects ran smoothly and said he believes strongly in the mission of the library and its impact on local communities.

“One of the benefits—and at Wright Farms specifically—is that we’ve created a destination in a part of the city people just passed through before,” said Sager. “This benefits surrounding local businesses in addition to raising the quality of life for people who live in this neighborhood.” The same thing can be said for the new Anythink Brighton library, which was built in a neighborhood the city is working hard to revitalize. Brighton City Manager Manuel Esquibel said, “We haven’t done an analysis of the economic impact of the library and the Brighton Cultural Center to the economy, but the two together have certainly attracted people to the downtown area for enjoyment, especially to the restaurants in the area.”

The district collaborates with many local organizations and municipalities to enhance its services. Partnering with local businesses is also important. Thornton’s Bagel Bakery has contracted with the library to run the Anythink Café at Wright Farms, now open just over a year. This provides an exciting new feature at the Thornton destination. Coffee served at the café is from another Thornton-based company, Allegro Coffee.

For Bagel Bakery owner Michelle Martinez, the opportunity to set up shop at Wright Farms was a no-brainer. “I love the environment, the built-in customer base, and becoming closer with the community.” Previously, most of the bakery’s locations were “off the beaten path,” she said. “Many folks who don’t pass by—or pass by and see only the ‘bagels’ sign—have no idea how much we offer. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce ourselves.” Martinez enjoys offering new items exclusive to the library and being a part of the Anythink family. “They are a unique group, and I feel honored to be welcomed.”

With large, comfortable meeting spaces and free Wi-Fi, the libraries support local businesses and independent professionals in many different ways. “Anythink Libraries have grown to meet the needs of our information-based economy by providing both traditional and fresh new ways for businesses to gather information and access technology resources,” says Deborah Obermeyer, president and CEO of Colorado’s Metro North Chamber of Commerce. “The facilities themselves are welcoming and have an energy that invites and supports innovation. Anythink is a tremendous asset in attracting and engaging community and business leaders to the metro-north region.”

The branding biz

Launching a large branding campaign like Anythink has also had a positive influence on local businesses that were contracted to create everything from signage to promotional materials and even the brand concept. John Bellina, cofounder of the Denver-based marketing firm Ricochet Ideas, was part of the creative team that developed the Anythink brand and credits the experience with helping his company gain its own brand recognition. He said the national attention from the project brought his company new business from Iowa, California, and Utah.

Bellina said much of the district’s success comes from its willingness to take risks. “Status quo thinking is a race to the bottom,” he said. “The Anythink team took a good, hard look at themselves and the current state of libraries across the country and decided to take a bold, calculated risk in order to become something great,” Bellina added. “So far, it would appear that the risk to rebrand as Anythink was a far better option than the certainty of staying one of the least-funded and ignored library districts in Colorado. That calculation, while seemingly easy in retrospect, takes a great deal of courage and commitment.”

Anythink did not set out to inspire others, but its “little engine that could” story has done exactly that.

Buy local, smile local

In many ways, Anythink has approached its transformation like a start-up company. So it’s no surprise that Anythink uses as many local small businesses as it can for its services. Companies like Scudder Press and FastSigns in Northglenn or Denver Bookbinding have become valuable partners in creating some of the promotional items that have helped Anythink succeed.

“The majority of the money we spend beyond our materials budget is with Colorado companies,” said Anythink Finance Director Mindy Kittay. Professional services, utilities, snow removal, janitorial services, and fuel are all purchased through Colorado companies.

The largest portion of the district’s budget—56% in 2011—goes toward staffing. Of the 144 people who work at the district, 81 of them live in Adams County. The rest commute from areas like Denver, Boulder, and Jefferson counties.

Because many of the staff members live in Adams County, the people Anythink serves each day are more than just customers—they’re family, friends, and neighbors.

“We have significant emphasis on hospitality in our organization,” said Anythink Director Pam Sandlian Smith. “We want everyone who walks through our doors to feel welcome and be inspired by their library experience.”

And that’s just good business.

STACIE LEDDEN is communications manager for Anythink Libraries. This article was originally published in the Dec. 31, 2010, issue of SPARK, Anythink’s public newsletter, and updated in American Libraries’ April 2012 Architectural Digital Supplement.


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