March 22, 2018 – This past Sunday, GJEP’s Economic Focus in The Daily Sentinel began a new series designed to better inform our community about GJEP’s role as the official economic development agency for Mesa County, and about economic development initiatives in our community in general. The series is written by GJEP executive director and former Sentinel columnist, Robin Brown. We hope you enjoy it!
Recently, a commercial realtor who has worked with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership (GJEP) for years asked if we could help a client with a zoning change on a commercial property that they were purchasing to keep up with their fast-paced growth. A large contract had required the client to increase their workforce and they had quickly outgrown their office building. A new building had been found that they could purchase and renovate to fit the larger company, but the zoning was wrong for the type of business they were doing. Of course, we could help the client, but I was still stuck on the fact that this growing local business was adding jobs and making a large capital investment in our community. Those are the two factors that can sometimes trigger tax incentives, but the realtor hadn’t thought to ask us about those because he didn’t know to. And he’s not the only one that I’ve come across in my first 90 days on the job that doesn’t really understand the role of GJEP in our community. There does seem to be some confusion as to what we actually do and so, in an effort to better communicate what we do to the public, we’re reworking this monthly column into sort of an Economic Development 101 as it relates to Colorado’s Grand Valley.
So let’s begin with some history. On May 2, 1982- a day known locally as Black Sunday- Exxon pulled out of the local market abandoning the oil shale industry that had supported the Grand Valley. Overnight, the community lost 15,000 jobs, banks closed, foreclosures spiked and the bottom fell out of the local economy. In response to the devastation, a group of local citizens started GJEP, a 501c3, in order to diversify the local economy by recruiting businesses into the community from outside of Colorado. One of those founders, Denny Granum, still sits on our board.
GJEP’s mission is to enhance the economic vitality in Colorado’s Grand Valley, creating a strong and diverse economy, and an improved quality of life. We do that by recruiting and retaining businesses in Mesa County. Our vision is to create quality jobs and expand capital investment through the attraction, expansion and retention of primary business.
Instead of duplicating efforts, Mesa County, the Cities of Grand Junction and Fruita and the town of Palisade all contribute to GJEP as their economic development agency. We spearhead economic development efforts for all of Mesa County, to include Debeque and Collbran. The contributions from the municipalities make up about half of our annual budget, while the other half mainly comes from our investors- local businesses who donate to us annually because they believe in the importance of a strong and diverse economy. Our budget is primarily spent on prospect development, trade shows, and marketing efforts to attract new business into the area. We are currently working with a number of companies across many industries who are interested in relocating to Mesa County. We provide a number of free services to those companies and serve as their relocation experts- helping them network with the local business community, find appropriate real estate as well as available workforce, creating talent pipelines when needed through our partners at the Workforce Center, Western Colorado Community College and Colorado Mesa University, and- when they fit- access tax incentives.
But we don’t work alone. We have a number of partners we work with in our efforts- primarily the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, the Business Incubator Center and the Workforce Center. About two years ago, the partners got together and crafted a Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies in order to streamline our processes and focus our efforts. It states that GJEP will focus on recruiting businesses from out of town into town, the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce will focus on expanding local business and the Business Incubator Center will focus on start ups. Of course, there is overlap and we often work together on all three of those areas, but it’s a much more cohesive process than in the past since everybody’s roles are clearly outlined. The Workforce Center is a vital piece of our efforts and supports all three agencies.
Beyond prospect development, we help to create a business friendly environment that is attractive to new and expanding businesses. Most recently, we worked with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Junction Regional Airport to apply for a Foreign Trade Zone- a tool that could help our local manufacturers and make us more attractive to new business as well. We also worked with the Business Incubator Center in their efforts to establish Opportunity Zones within Mesa County- a tool that will help spur commercial investment in distressed areas of the county. Over the past two years, working closely with the CMU Unconventional Energy Center and Western Colorado Oil and Gas Association, we facilitated a white paper in support of the Jordan Cove project in order to sell natural gas from the piceance basin to the Asian markets- a steady revenue stream for western Colorado. Current efforts have us focused on the recruitment of outdoor recreation businesses into Riverfront at Las Colonias- a new business park located along the Colorado River that will include a water recreation area, a zipline across the river and mixed-use development.
It’s an exciting time in western Colorado! In the months to follow, we’ll use this space to talk more about the industries that we want to grow and our efforts to do so, how tax incentives work and why they are important, the public projects that we’re involved in and the many partners that we work with, our challenges and of course, our wins. We hope you’ll follow our progress!