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GJEP Executive Director Reflects on 2018

December 18, 2018 – In Sunday’s The Daily Sentinel, Robin Brown reflected on the last year. Here’s what she wrote:

A year ago, I jumped on a moving train at GJEP and it’s only accelerated since then as I learned the world of economic development and reorganized the organization a bit to better serve the community. An increasing number of prospects lead to the creation of an internal process to better track the companies interested in relocating to the area and better understand the trends associated with why they come or why we lost them in the process. Focusing on owner-operated companies under 50 employees has proved to be our sweet spot although instead of focusing on specific industries as we have in the past, we’re finding that the line between so many industries is blurred these days as our fastest growing sectors are manufacturing and tech- two areas that encompass all of our industries such as energy, outdoor recreation, and healthcare.

Quality of life is still our biggest draw and we’ve been able to quantify that in terms of workforce stabilization. When people spend less of their income on their home and more of their non-working day enjoying themselves instead of sitting in traffic, they’re happier and more productive.  Happy employees stay in their jobs longer, reducing turnover for the companies that employ them and lowering costs.

Demand for our services grew to the point where we were less proactive and more reactive simply keeping up with the requests we were receiving on a daily basis so we added a second recruiter to focus specifically on growing the tech industry.  For years, GJEP has struggled to figure out our role in growing and supporting tech and we’re excited now to have a dedicated staff person to navigate that world and support our tech companies. 2019 should see a bigger focus on technology with the launch of a Start Up Grand Junction event in June to coincide with our Annual Economic Summit.

In June, we entered new territory for GJEP as commercial developers began knocking on our door looking for information on our economic forecast, available real estate, demand for commercial uses and market rates. After having the same conversation over and over with multiple developers, we consolidated all that great market information into a new page on our website called Real Estate Development. We continue to work with our local commercial brokers to market our available properties as well as our Opportunity Zone projects.  As we close out the year, we continue to get phone calls and visits from interested developers. I expect a number of these projects will come to fruition in 2019.

To wrap up the year, GJEP recruited seven new businesses to Colorado’s Grand Valley totaling 77 new jobs with an economic impact of $19 million to the local economy. That impact is measured by the direct spend of those new jobs as well as the capital investment from those new companies. In Mesa County, job growth grew by 3%, unemployment is down around 3.5%, and sales tax revenues increased 8% over last year. It’s been a long time since Mesa County had good news like that and I expect we’ll see similar numbers in 2019.

But even with all that good news, we still have a lot of work to do. Our average annual wage of $42,000 is $20,000 below the state average and over half of our kids in D51 schools are on free and reduced lunch- a direct correlation. We still are feeling the repercussions of 11% unemployment just a few years ago in terms of crime, domestic violence, and depression, exacerbated by a shortage of needed public safety officers and underfunded schools.

However, we’ll pause this week at GJEP and celebrate our successes while feeling grateful for our economic development partners, our donors and the incredible community we call home. And come January 1, 2019, we’ll get right back to work.

Happy Holidays to all!

 

This article ran as part of GJEP’s monthly column in The Daily Sentinel print edition. Read it on the third Sunday of every month.