GJEP moves interim director into top post

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER TOMLINSON—Kelly Flenniken has worked as business development manager at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership since 2008 and will become executive director for the partnership, which has 150 investors in the region and a mission of bringing businesses to the Grand Valley.

Kelly Flenniken no longer will be the interim executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Instead, she will be the executive director of the group.

Flenniken, who’s worked at the partnership as its business development manager since 2008 and for six months has filled in for the top role, was the sole finalist in a national search, board members said Friday.

More than 80 people from around the nation applied for the position after Ann Driggers resigned in April after 10 years on the job.

“We looked outside as a gauge to see what’s out there, but we came back to her,” said Steve Gunderson, chairman of the GJEP Board of Directors and regional president of US Bank. “It’s a nice feather in her cap that we came back to Kelly. She has all those contacts and skill sets that we need, and she does work well with existing players in our community.”

Gunderson and other board members said that while it was important to find a leader who has contacts nationwide and who knows how to recruit businesses to locate or expand in the Grand Valley, it’s just as important to have one who knows what’s here.

Such a person not only can help those local firms get what they need to expand their markets, but also knows exactly what it is she’s selling to companies in trying to attract them here.

That latter skill will become especially important with the partnership’s new mission: to be far more aggressive than it ever has been in luring companies to the region, said John Williams, president of Gateway Canyons Land & Development and vice chairman of the partnership.

“What the board of directors want to do is put the GJEP team out on the road and sell this community as a great place to live and a great place to locate a business,” Williams said.

Prior to 2008 when the nation’s economy went sour, the region’s unemployment rate was low and business activity was high.

Today, things are reversed and the region is in stiff competition with other communities nationwide to expand their economic development.

All of which puts a lot of pressure on Flenniken.

One of her plans is to use the connections of local people, including those on the partnership’s board, to seek out companies looking to expand, and getting to them before others do as a way of putting Grand Junction on the map.

“We’ve got guys like Rick Brainard, general manager of West Star Aviation,” Williams said. “West Star’s all over the place, its customers come from all over. She intends to leverage a board member like Rick Brainard with West Star’s plane customers. You never know when someone comes in here to get a plane fixed, and stays for a few days. Some will say, ‘Hey, this would be a great place to raise a kid and locate a business.’ “

That will work because economic development isn’t a one-man — or one-woman in this case — endeavor, Flenniken said. People like Williams, Brainard and Gunderson are only a few whose business tentacles stretch well beyond the valley, so it makes sense to build on their connections, she said.

Timing is crucial in economic development, and if they hear of a company elsewhere in the nation that’s looking to expand or move, it’s important to know before others.

“I want to be more aggressive in terms of our recruitment in a targeted and meaningful way,” she said. “I also want to use those very strong networks that Grand Junction has in order to identify what those targets are, and who those people are to go to.”

The partnership has more than 150 private investors in the region, who invest a combined $400,000 a year into the effort. All those investors have their own network of contacts, and can be used not only to let Flenniken know what’s happening in the business community outside the region, but also in selling Grand Junction as the place to locate, she said.

“We want to do outreach to industry-specific publications, as well as take advantage of the strong and engaged board to find out who it is they know and what regions of the country we can target,” she said. “That’s so we can travel there, schedule video conferencing or some kind of way where I can introduce them to Grand Junction. It’s about taking advantage of the connections that people have.”


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