As I pondered what to write at the start of a new year, I looked back at the column I wrote in January 2020, when we all existed in an entirely different world. That column was about rural communities being left behind as state policy focused overwhelmingly on the I25 corridor and specifically the Denver metro area. In western Colorado, we worked hard to create policies and incentives that would drive businesses and jobs to our part of the state and while we had many successes, it was still an uphill battle to convince companies that they could do business on a global scale from our community of 150,000.

One global pandemic later, that landscape has certainly changed. If 2020 proved anything, it was that you can operate your business from almost anywhere- specifically in the tech industry. Normally, December at GJEP is a quiet time to get caught up on all the behind the scenes stuff that keeps GJEP humming along. Companies don’t make big decisions like relocating during the holidays, so our prospecting is normally light. But as we all know, 2020 was a year like no other and that included December, when we were contacted by eight different companies who were thinking of relocating, in the process of relocating, or in some cases, already here and needing services to get settled.

Among them is a cybersecurity company that relocated from Washington, DC, drawn to Grand Junction, in part, because of CMU’s Cybersecurity program. Interestingly, they are keeping their DC address, but have physically relocated to Grand Junction. This is an interesting trend in the tech industry that we saw throughout last year as well- companies can physically be anywhere, but the optics of the address seem to be a  holdover from pre-pandemic times, so many relocating companies keep an address in the place they came from, while physically moving the entire company to western Colorado. I suspect that will change over the next year or two as Grand Junction gains more name recognition in the tech industry as well as a critical mass of growing tech companies.

Speaking of growing tech companies, big kudos to locally grown tech company, ProStar, for helping speed that recognition up as they became Grand Junction’s first publicly traded company listing this week on the Toronto Stock Exchange – a stepping stone towards being listed on NASDAQ. The fact that CDOT now mandates the use of ProStar’s patented precision mapping solution is an exciting development that should serve to accelerate the company’s growth.

Our region is chugging along, despite (and maybe because of) the national calamity taking place in our nation’s capitol as well as continued COVID shutdowns in other states. The tempo seems to have picked up even from December as we continue to be contacted by companies, investors and developers who are betting on the Grand Valley as Colorado’s best kept secret. A number of long-vacant commercial buildings are suddenly under contract while our housing inventory is at an all-time low. Remote workers continue to move here in droves and I just wish there was an accurate way to track the number of people coming into the area bringing their jobs with them. Realtors and property managers are selling and leasing properties over Zoom, sight unseen, and the City of Grand Junction’s Housing Needs Assessment can’t come quick enough to convince developers that we still need more housing.

The remote worker trend is interesting. It’s too early to tell if remote work is a temporary trend or one that will stick, but we’re focused on it. Energize Colorado held its first Remote Job Fair this past week, focusing on three companies that were hiring remote workers that could live anywhere in Colorado. And so now, in addition to recruiting companies for the jobs that they will bring to our region, we’re trying to figure out how to use jobs that can be done anywhere to recruit the type of skilled workforce that we need in our community. Nothing is as it appears and our strategy changes yet again! Happy New Year from GJEP!

~ Robin Brown, GJEP Executive Director

This piece was originally published in The Daily Sentinel on January 17, 2021