Last week, I met two different business owners who were growing businesses in Grand Junction after landing here temporarily to take care of aging parents. Both had grown up in western Colorado, left early in life and built lives and careers in larger, more urban areas. Both had been coming back for years to visit parents and had now relocated to the area when their parents needed more help. They discovered they kind of liked it here and considered staying. One opened a satellite office and was surprised at the caliber of the graduates coming out of CMU. He hired a few and was planning on growing his footprint when we met. The other- a TV producer- could work from anywhere and decided to hang out his shingle and continue working from Grand Junction. None of this was very surprising- in fact, a lot of people who grew up here come back after seeing the world and deciding our corner of it is actually a pretty good place to be. What was surprising was that both told me how important the airport had been in their decision. The fact that there were so many options to get to clients all over the globe and how easy it was to travel to and from Grand Junction was the comment that really struck me. Now if only we could convince the locals…

I talk every month in this column about the economic recovery we see all across the valley and how hard we’re pushing at GJEP to continue to diversify our economy, recruit in new businesses and help our local businesses expand. No place has that recovery been more apparent, in my opinion, than at the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

In 2017, prior to taking the GJEP job, I had the opportunity to serve as a commissioner on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority. We had significant challenges. Our third airport director in three years had quit and moved to Eagle, we were in the RFP process for the largest construction project this community had ever taken on, and we had the eyesore of the unfinished administration building to deal with. Board meetings regularly stretched to four hours, morale among our airport staff was low, the General Aviation community was up in arms and there were a lot of really hard decisions to make.

Looking at the airport today, that sure seems like a long time ago. Kudos to the Airport Authority for their hard work and most importantly, for hiring airport director Angela Padalecki. What a difference three years has made. If you haven’t been up there in the last week, the controversial admin building is officially gone. Yes, it would have been nice to have saved it and the airport tried for years to find a way to do so. However, it’s been sitting unfinished, exposed to the elements for seven long years and seems almost symbolic to have it finally gone so we can all move forward. Yesterday, I dropped a prospect at the airport and was relieved that, for once, I didn’t have to explain what that unfinished building was next to our terminal.

But that building is minor compared to everything else going on at the airport. Pretty much every number we track improved from 2018 to 2019 and because airlines forecast flights into the future, we can see continued growth into 2020. In early 2019, we made history by hitting 800 seats a day on average and held that average into the new year. Forecasted flights for 2020 are showing we’ll hit an average of 1000 seats a day throughout the year. That’s 18% growth in seat capacity since 2018 and it’s a significant indicator.

United tried out a direct to Chicago last summer and it performed well. It will return this summer and we hope to see it grow. Allegiant added a year round leisure flight to Mesa, Arizona that will continue through 2020. Passenger traffic as well as load factors continue to grow, which has actually resulted in lower fares, which is truly what everybody I talk to wants to hear. It should be noted that we are the only airport in the state where fares have decreased. This is even more impressive given the grounding of the 737s and the shortage of airline pilots which have made air service and expansion especially difficult for airlines.

And we might actually be getting that “sexy” airport I asked for so many years ago. New artwork by local photographer Ken Redding show those arriving that we’re different than the rest of Colorado, a repositioned bar overlooking the Bookcliffs is front row to the most spectacular happy hour show each evening and those four inch tiles that were installed prior to the advent of the rolling suitcase are being torn up and replaced with tasteful engineered vinyl.

Just in time for spring break! Where will you go?

For more information on the Grand Junction Regional Airport, read The Daily Sentinel’s recent article on its economic impact on the state.

Also in The Daily Sentinel’s February Economic Focus:the latest Grand Valley Economic Snapshot.


Photo courtesy Grand Junction Regional Airport.