As 2020 Ends, It’s Time to Look Forward

As we roll into the final weeks of the strangest year in my lifetime, what’s left to say that hasn’t already been said? Finding the silver lining each month when I sat down to write this column wasn’t always easy, but there most definitely always was one. Living in western Colorado being the greatest of advantages during this pandemic as our COVID numbers stayed lower than most places and collaborations across the valley and state kept our businesses and schools open when they could have simply been closed.

At the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, we actually had a great year as we helped ease the transition as businesses and remote workers moved into the area adding to an economy that continues to diversify and strengthen despite a global pandemic. Many of our projects planned for 2020 were pushed to 2021, but for the first time in my tenure we accomplished a lot of internal projects that had been put on the back burner for years. In addition to updating our Business Brand, website and tech tools, we took a hard look at our strategies and tactics and really figured out what’s working and what’s not. Today, we’re more efficient and streamlined and we know far more about our prospects and what they need than ever before.

We typically close the office between Christmas and New Years which serves as a kind of mental reset and this year we’ll need that more than ever. We’ll launch the new year with a fresh fundraising campaign so we can continue to do the work that we do and feel pretty good about planning our Annual Economic Summit as an in-person event next fall.

In my own family, the hectic pace that we normally keep between school, sports and work slowed as so many things were cancelled which resulted in far more nights around the dinner table than we’re used to, lots of movie nights and a simple predictability in our schedule that I think we all really enjoyed. Another silver lining and a pace that we’ll try to hold on to as we move back into a more normal schedule next year.

As I shopped this past week- both at our mall and downtown- I felt like people were chattier, friendlier and more patient. I was surprised at what I found in our local retail shops and actually enjoyed the exercise of Christmas shopping for my loved ones which in recent years had become a quick frantic exercise in online shopping and checking things off the list.

With the vaccine now flowing into our community, I feel fairly confident that we’ll reopen and recover quickly as more and more of our healthcare workers and most vulnerable populations receive protection. Once that confidence sets in, I think our restaurants will be busy, our theaters will reopen, and I for one will reschedule all those missed happy hours and get-togethers that we didn’t get to have this past year. I sure do miss my friends and family and these virtual end of year parties just aren’t cutting it.

2020 wreaked havoc on all of us. Many of our neighbors and friends are unemployed this holiday season or have businesses that are hanging by a thread. The stress caused by an unknown future that is almost entirely out of our control has created rifts between friends, coworkers, and our leaders and it’s hard to bridge the divide and continue the good work that’s been done in this community over the past five years when a sense of panic is driving decision making. However, this too shall pass. Nothing in economic development is easy or fast and patience and persistence are almost always required for the most complicated and most important projects.

As a community, we were well on our way to recovery from the Great Recession- a process that’s taken us over five years and might still take another five. COVID might have slowed our trajectory a bit, but that’s all it’s done. Sales tax revenues, job numbers, wages and unemployment continue to improve and our lodging and airport numbers, while down, are recovering faster than the rest of the state. As the year comes to a close, our schools and businesses are mostly open, the vaccine is being distributed and for the first time since March, there is hope for the new year.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.