Economic development group shifts strategy to aggressive search for firms, jobs
Before the recession, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership’s duty of recruiting new businesses was relatively easy. With the area bolstered by the oil and gas boom, businesses clamored to get a foothold in the rapidly growing Grand Valley.
But the economic devastation that scrolled across the nation finally hit the Grand Valley in late 2008, and GJEP’s job got much more difficult.
As the economy appears to be sputtering back to life, GJEP members say the organization is going in a new direction.
“When the economy was hot, we had very little unemployment,” said board member John Williams, who is slated to be the president of the board next year. “We weren’t aggressively seeking leads on business. I don’t think GJEP changed quickly enough. We have a really focused board now, and we’re working to aggressively sell Grand Junction, Colorado.”
The organization was created by civic-minded individuals in 1984 after a similar collapse of the valley economy. It will try to do now what it did then: bring jobs to the area and restart economic growth.
The partnership will target five industries: aviation, health care, energy services, information technology and the outdoor-gear-manufacturing.
GJEP Executive Director Kelly Flenniken said her role is to be an instigator in the development process instead of just waiting for phone calls to roll in. Also, the group paid little attention to attracting retail business to the area in recent years. Now, retail business will be another player at the table, though the city and county will lead those efforts.
“We need to do a better job of generating our own prospects,” Flenniken said. “We know what businesses would do well here. We need to be using those good connections, rather that waiting for that company to stumble on our website.”
In general, she said, prospective businesses that call already have identified Grand Junction on their “short list” as one area where they are considering locating. Those calls are tracked, she said, and she follows up with those interested parties to answer further questions or provide support.
But GJEP is not solely focused on attracting new businesses. The group’s free services also are available to existing, local businesses looking to expand.
For example, the agency offers incentives for employers who add at least 15 employees who will be paid above-average wages, with some guarantees the jobs are created for the long term.
Another unofficial networking strategy Flenniken says the group is using plays on the theory behind the trivia game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” or the more general concept of six degrees of separation. That idea entertains the notion that everyone on average can be linked to anyone else on the planet within six steps or fewer, such as through a friend of a friend.
In the business realm, that can be put to use by talking up the Grand Valley to anyone and everyone, such as the person you sit next to on an airplane, Williams said.
“We’ve got a lot of people that can be ambassadors,” he said. “It’s a more powerful tool than you would think.”