Corporate recruiters: Officials target companies that would fit well in GJ

PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Grand Junction has identified, with the help of a 2008 Buxton study, stores that would be good matches for Grand Junction. Some have come to town, says Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the of Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Fred Strothman, owner of the soon-to-open JF Strothman Distillery, shows off some of the equipment in the distillery, which is at 2862 North Ave. Strothman hopes the recently opened 29 Road overpass will breathe life into the section of North Avenue around his new venture.

It’s easy for people to sound off on what kinds of businesses they want in Grand Junction. The large empty buildings at the Eastgate Shopping Center on North Avenue could host a Costco. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Panera Bread in town or a Macy’s at the mall?

These are the kinds of conversations that residents have long shared. But the process of identifying what businesses the market can sustain and how to attract those businesses, whether in new retail stores or manufacturing centers, is another beast entirely.

Luring new life into the local economy is one goal city, county and other local economic-development officials lately have been tackling more aggressively.

One of their tools is a commissioned report called the Buxton study. Using a number of demographic factors, the report narrows down which retail businesses Grand Junction’s market would support. That information often is shared with prospective businesses in an attempt to lure them to the Grand Valley.

“I think this will better describe to us how much of a regional hub we are,” said Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Kovalik said another study completed a few years ago showed 34 percent of retail sales in Grand Junction to people from outside of Mesa County.

“We know that we get business from as far away as Price (Utah), Eagle, from all over,” Kovalik said. “But we didn’t have the data of what that means financially.”

The first Buxton study, released in 2008, identified the following businesses as being good matches for Grand Junction: Anchor Blue, Banana Republic, Burlington Coat Factory, Chico’s, Coldwater Creek, CVS Pharmacy, Dillard’s, Fashion Bug, Fazoli’s, Fuddruckers, J. Crew, Jason’s Deli, Joe’s Crab Shack, LensCrafters, Marshall’s, New York & Company, Shoe Carnival, T.G.I. Friday’s, T.J. Maxx and Whole Foods Market.

Two other businesses that were recommended in Buxton studies included Brakes Plus, which has since opened at 519 Ligrani Lane, and Sunflower Farmers Market. The natural-food grocer is slated to open in the Rimrock Crossing Shopping Center, west of Lowe’s, by next fall.

The city and county are spending $7,500 to update the Buxton study this year.

Officials also are getting creative with the study’s results. If an area has enough traffic to support a certain store, but an available building doesn’t have enough square footage, they might suggest that developers downsize operations a bit. By doing research in advance on available buildings and open land, they can quickly suggest options to lure potential businesses.

“We keep plugging away,” Kovalik said about attracting businesses. “This stuff takes years.”

Investment in community

Kelly Flenniken said she hears it all the time. The executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership said people tend to request three stores the most: P.F. Chang’s, Costco and Whole Foods Market.

While GJEP focuses on creating primary jobs, it has expanded its vision to also be a player in attracting retail businesses.

High quality of life is one factor that corporations consider before moving to an area, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle, Flenniken said.

Recent infrastructure work, including the Riverside Parkway and the 29 Road Bridge, improves shipping, which large companies recognize, she said.

As a community, Grand Junction does not offer heaps of incentives for companies to move here, and incentives are handled case by case according to the desirability of a business, Flenniken said.

“We can’t give a business millions of dollars because we don’t have millions of dollars,” she said. “If you bring a business here only from what you give them, they could move if they get a better deal somewhere else. We want them to be invested in the community and want to be here.”

East versus west

The area around Mesa Mall has been booming in the past few years, with a new hotel, shopping opportunities and a major grocery store. At one point in 2007, a 60-acre, mixed-use Colorado River Marketplace, anchored by a Dillard’s store, was slated for the area. REI talked about opening a store in the area, too. The ensuing economic downturn dashed those plans. But while the west end continues to develop, stretches of the four-mile long North Avenue languish.

The corridor that served as the city’s main shopping district in the 1970s and 1980s had a storefront vacancy rate of 13.65 percent in September, according to a city survey.

Officials have worked with prospective businesses to regenerate the area. For example, they offered REI incentives to move into the Eastgate Shopping Center, which was abandoned by City Market. REI was not interested and wants to build near 24 Road or not all, Kovalik said.

Bright spots along the route’s east end include the construction of Peppermill Loft apartments on 28 1/4 Road. Tenants in the area will demand more services, which will be followed by growth, economic development officials said. North Avenue Plaza, opposite Walmart, is breathing life back into the area.

The 29 Road bridge and recently completed overpass also may infuse the area with increased traffic from all sectors of town. Hilltop, which owns the buildings that house the Mesa County Workforce Center, plans to sell off its 3.7-acre site, which may make space for anchor development.

That’s what Fred Strothman is counting on as he plans to open a distillery in the area, 2862 North Ave., in the next few weeks.

He said the area might be considered by some to be a “bad part of town,” but he believes that view can change. Besides, the amount of traffic on North Avenue is encouraging.

“I wouldn’t have invested this much in here if I didn’t think it was going to fly,” he said.

Grand Junction City Planner Tim Moore said people often ask about plans to reinvigorate North Avenue, which does not lack the traffic for businesses to succeed. The intersection of 12th Street and North Avenue, for instance, averages 30,000 cars a day.

Large employers such as Colorado Mesa University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center anchor about six blocks of the corridor, but officials would love to see another large employer move into a space on its east end.

The city also hopes cosmetic improvements will help the corridor’s image.

Already the city has cut away the curb in areas of North Avenue to help Grand Valley Transit buses navigate the roadway. When the roadway is in need of improvements, the lanes likely will be narrowed with striping added for bike paths. New development is encouraged to build closer to the roadway, and sidewalks are required. The city also will limit the amount of entrances to business, called curb cuts, to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We have good things going on there. We just need to build on that,” Moore said.


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