“Before COVID-19 shut everyone down in 2020, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership (GJEP) was already showing strong tech and outdoor recreation growth to go with agriculture and core industries that have sustained the area since it was settled,” reports Innovation & Tech Today in its Fall 2021 issue. Here’s the rest of the story:
“During the pandemic, that dynamic not only changed, but did something amazing. Out of state tech and digital economy workers saw the many lifestyle advantages to moving to Colorado’s westernmost city, sold their houses, and moved to town — starting what is now a booming remote worker presence. That was coupled with a sharp jump in sales among the more than 20 outdoor recreation businesses in the area.
‘They brought their tech jobs and talent into the community. We had what they wanted — greater quality of life, lower business costs, and the chance to adopt a healthier lifestyle and mindset,’ GJEP Deputy Director Steve Jozefczyk said. ‘A big migration of tech workers wanted to connect with our business community, which led to a big uptick in co-working spaces, and tech groups being created organically.’
What an accomplishment for a region that the Brookings Institute predicted would be among the hardest-hit by COVID-19, in deaths and business decline. One year later, the Milken Institute, a competing think tank, offered a far different assessment: Grand Junction was ranked #57 on its list of Best Performing U.S. small cities. The city is also #12 in 12-month job growth.
What’s behind this? First, GJEP pivoted and leaned into what was working in 2020. Which meant tech, the digital economy, migrating workers, and outdoor recreation. They coordinated or advised on think tanks, work sessions and virtual networking events, started the Welcome Wagon (a play on the Wild West) to connect newcomers with local businesswomen and men, and provided additional resources and assistance.
‘The Welcome Wagon has been a huge success,’ Jozefczyk said. ‘We put 13 newbies together with locals for a year to help find friends, colleagues, and help people get integrated. This was our capacity; we have more than 20 on our waiting list now, so we’re building out capacity. Every quarter, we do a bigger event as well.’
As for businesses, three major players came to town:
• Cloudrise, the cloud-based software services provider, expanded operations from Denver.
• Pax8, a Cloud Business software platformer and consultant, expanded from Greenwood Village, CO to Grand Junction and hired in-office and remote workers. (One of those was former GJEP official Mara Hardy.)
• Hayden Data, with offices in Sydney, Australia and Chattanooga, TN, opened up an HQ in Grand Junction. They make sensors that are fixed atop power lines to detect movement, temperature, degrading wood, power outages, fires and wind. Along with them, a manufacturer started building aluminum boxes for the sensors – bringing in another 200+ employees between them.
Moving forward again is the Riverfront at Las Colonias, Grand Junction’s beautiful riverfront recreation facility, park, living community and industrial park. The first industrial park tenant, Bonsai Design, brought in Cloudrise to occupy part of its facility. An engineering firm, KLJ, and The Christi Reece Group, a real estate company, also moved in. Jozefczyk added that GJEP is working with another tenant to bring together NPOs with ties to outdoor recreation and river conservation — a nod to Grand Junction’s focus on sustainability and healthy living.
On the west side of Grand Junction’s River District, construction for Riverfront at Dos Rios — the western “bookend” of the development, with Riverfront at Las Colonias on the eastern side — is underway. It will feature residential, commercial, restaurant, retail and a glamping site.