Economic group may go different direction

When the Grand Junction Economic Partnership board meets next week to decide how to replace its departing executive director, it will confront a different landscape than it has in previous searches.

More players are in the economic-development game than ever before and companies are more sophisticated about the deals they can strike, which combine to make the stakes that much higher, observers said.

The partnership is seeking to replace Ann Driggers, who resigned last week but will remain for 90 days pending the appointment of a replacement.

Perhaps the first thing the organization will have to do is decide whether to continue in the business it was founded to do, lure companies to the Grand Valley.

However that might seem a given, several founders of the organization cited its continuance as necessary when asked about where the partnership should go next.

“I do believe there’s a need for it,” said Jamie Hamilton, chairman and chief executive officer of Home Loan & Investment Co., 205 N. Fourth St.

The partnership, moreover, should remain private and not be folded into another organization, Hamilton said.

“That way it would be a little bit more nimble,” Hamilton said. One advocate for a different approach is Fruita Mayor Ken Henry.

It “ought to be promoting business activity versus economic development, which is in the slow lane right now,” Henry said.

Shoring up the Grand Valley economy might be best accomplished by pursuing “low-hanging fruit,” such as more festivals and other events aimed at drawing visitors who stay for a short period, spend and then leave, Henry said.

Improving an existing industry such as tourism could provide the most immediate aid for the Grand Valley and its 11 percent unemployment rate, he said.

One way to do that could be to pursue designation of Colorado National Monument as a national park, he said.

One reason for the partnership to shift its emphasis is that economic development “is tough regardless of where you are,” Henry said.

“It could be a misallocation of resources to go after a market that is not there.”

The partnership, however, is an important part of the valley’s economic apparatus, said Norm Franke, president of Alpine Bank and the former chairman of the partnership, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Inc., which owns land that is offered to lure companies to the valley.

“We’re in an environment in which you have to get out and call on customers,” Franke said. “You have to hit ‘em between the eyes and say, ‘Here’s a better opportunity.’ “

Even at that, immediate payoffs are rare, Franke said, noting it can take years, even a decade for a contact to become an acquisition.

Other parts of the Grand Valley economy lean on organizations such as the economic-development partnership, said Terry Farina, a Grand Junction attorney and a founder of the organization first known as the Mesa County Economic Development Council.

To reduce development efforts would be to interfere with a growing connection among the various institutions in the Grand Valley, from local governments to School District 51 to Mesa State College, Farina said.

All of the elements have to work together to encourage growth, Farina said, citing the ability of a university to grant advanced degrees, which could help attract new industry to the valley.

To do that requires money and an organization.

“You have to have a forward lean on these things,” Farina said.

Denny Granum of Monument Homes has been on the search committee each time the partnership has sought a new chief. He said the board will have to decide where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

“Our prospecting opportunities are different than what we’ve experienced in years past,” Granum said. “We need to analyze that and come up with which approach fits best with Grand Junction.”



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