By Cilia Kohn

Originally published in The Daily Sentinel, Sunday, October 17, 2021

This past Wednesday, GJEP joined forces with CMU Career Services and the CMU MBA Alumni Association to host a panel discussion for students and graduates with three local, successful businesses: Aspen Technologies Group (ATG), Phoenix Haus and SG Aerospace & Gas. The theme of the event was “playing up your strengths” and the conversation inevitably turned to employees. Panelists Spencer Herms, Bill McDonald and Mike Sneddon, all shared valuable advice for how employees can stand out and become a valuable resource in their workplace through initiative, creativity and a willingness to try and fail. It was great advice for anyone who wants to prove their value to an employer, or potential employer.

However, a question we’re increasingly facing in the current work environment is not how can employees prove themselves to their employers, but how do employers prove themselves to their staff?

42.1 million Americans quit a job in 2019 – and data through August 2021 indicates that quit levels are 10-15% higher today than they were in that record-breaking year. Various reports say up to 55% of employees are considering changing jobs this year, if they haven’t already. Heck, at GJEP, we’ve lost more than half our staff year to date – and in my (biased) opinion, it’s a pretty awesome place to work.

In the “great resignation” wave, no employer is immune, and it is worthwhile for every company to look inward to see how and where they can improve employee relations. Almost every study that’s looked at this recent resignation trend cites poor company culture as the driving factor – either a pre-existing culture exasperated by the pandemic, or an environment brought on by the pandemic where employees felt increasingly unsupported and undervalued by their employer.

Now, it’s not exactly groundbreaking that poor corporate culture leads to unhappy employees. The difference in the past couple of years is the willingness of those employees to act and make the necessary moves to change their situation. Even if that means a physical move to a new location.

“Talent Wars”, an annual research report conducted by place marketing agency Development Counsellors International (DCI), looks at the key factors that motivate talent to relocate. Both pre- and post-pandemic, the top three reasons to consider a new job opportunity have been salary, work-life balance and company benefits, in that order. However, for the first time, in the most recent report released just this week, company benefits tied with meaningful work and location of new job.

That last factor is particularly interesting from an economic development standpoint, especially when you dig in to the migration motives. The majority of respondents (38%) picked their primary reason to relocate as “to have a better quality of life.”  And, the top three most important lifestyle factors are good school systems, outdoor recreation and safety/security.

As many of you know, GJEP launched a survey at the Western Colorado Economic Summit a couple of weeks ago to determine the most important lifestyle factors in our community – and how economic development efforts can support quality of life in the Grand Valley. Early results suggest we’re not so different from the rest of the country. We too prioritize education, outdoor recreation and safety.

GJEP’s plan is to take your survey answers and work with the community to set measurable goals around our collective, key priorities for the Grand Valley – aka our Grand Vision. It’s important that your voice is heard, so if you haven’t already participated in the survey, head on over to and take a couple of minutes to share your thoughts.

Speaking of the Summit, we had nearly 500 people in attendance this year and we thank all of you for your participation. We were able to start and deepen conversations around many key topics, including education, workforce development, talent attraction and retention.

We also want to give one last shoutout to our 2021 WCES sponsors: Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties and Coldwell Banker Commercial Prime Properties, Community Hospital, SCL Health/St. Mary’s, Charter Communications, FCI Constructors, Four Points Funding, Grand Valley Power and ANB Bank.

The next WCES is scheduled for Spring 2022. If you’re interested in being a part of it as a sponsor, speaker or attendee – or simply have an idea for a session – send me an email at

The GJEP/CMU event referenced in this article is part of a new joint effort, the GJ Career Passport Program, to connects students and recent graduates with the Grand Valley business community. To learn more about this program and how to participate, visit