Economic panel wooing new firm to Grand Valley

Longtime Grand Valley residents remember when Black Sunday hit the region back in 1982.

That’s when Exxon announced it was shutting down its Colony Shale Project, sending about 2,000 to the unemployment line.

Several other businesses suffered serious losses as a result, devastating the local economy.

From that rubble emerged a few residents who vowed to never let it happen again.

Less than two years after that day, they formed what was then known as the Mesa County Economic Development Council.

Its goal was to diversify the valley’s economy so no single event, no solitary company could create a similar economic shutdown.

“Grand Junction historically has been tied to the energy industry,” said Denny Granum, one of the people who helped create the council, and the only one who still serves on what now is called the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. “That includes the uranium boom and bust that we had, the oil and gas thing we went through in the early ‘80s, and even this last one where oil and gas drilling has slowed down.

“Our whole goal was diversification of our economic base, and bringing in companies that would bring in any number of primary jobs that exported a product out of the community,” he added. “That was our objective, and we’ve been over the years very successful at doing that.”

Some of those early successes include Reynolds Polymer Technology, Refrigeration Hardware 
Supply Corp. and Choice Hotels International, which, ironically, recently announced it was 
moving out of the city.

Granum and others credit the economic partnership’s work over the years with helping the region better weather the recent economic recession, though state economists repeatedly cite a slow recovery in energy prices as the chief reason the Western Slope continues to post high unemployment rates.

Although such new and expanded manufacturing companies as Lewis Engineering and Leitner-Poma of America have helped bring more sustainable jobs to the valley, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership hopes its newest initiative will bring even more here.

The partnership is close to announcing the winner of a bid to bring National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program anodizing services here.

That process coats the oxidized layer of metal parts, strengthening them and allowing paint to better adhere to their surfaces.

Existing companies in the valley are forced to send their anodizing to companies as far away as Phoenix or Sacramento, Calif., so having such a service here not only would save those companies in transportation costs, but also help attract new manufacturers to the region, particularly in the aviation industry.

“The nice thing about economic development is there’s always room to improve, there’s always ways that your economy can be more diverse,” said partnership Executive Director Kelly Flenniken.

“If you look at the way that our community fared through this recession compared to how it went in the recession in the ‘80s, we’ve done much better this go-around,” she added. “That’s a testament to how economic development really works. Do I think there’s room for us to improve? Absolutely. But we’re right on the mark with our target industries, and each one of those has room to grow.”

In addition to its work, the partnership acknowledges the work others have done that also has helped the region’s economy, and likely will for years to come.

Flenniken and Granum point out the three major ones: the phenomenal changes at Colorado Mesa University, expansion of the Grand Junction Regional Airport and improved air service with it, and expansion at St. Mary’s Hospital specifically and the medical community in general.

“Those are huge, huge factors that helped our community continue to grow,” said Granum, who also serves on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority. “They are the three strong things that are important to companies that look to Grand Junction.”

While Flenniken and the rest of the partnership board are by no means turning their back on the energy industry, they are optimistic about the future as a result of all that diversification because they know the more the region gets, the more it gets noticed by other companies.

And the more it gets noticed, the more new employers it will attract, even if it’s just the region’s quality of life.

The expected highlighting of the mountain bike trails outside of Fruita in an upcoming issue of Bike Magazine is a good example of what getting noticed can mean.

When the issue hits the stands at the end of the year, mountain bikers from all around may come to see the trails for themselves, and the more who come on a regular basis, the more business opportunities they will generate.

The group also points to other national attention the region has received.

Outdoor Life once ranked Grand Junction the sixth-best hunting and fishing town in the nation, Forbes said it was the 12th-best small place for business and career, and the New York Times listed it as one of the 10 best places to live on $100 a day.

That’s simply how economic development works, Flenniken said.

“We want to be out there making sure that people outside of our community know about the things we have to offer here,” she said. “Hopefully, there is the next big thing. Maybe it’ll be an aviation company because we’re able to talk about how we have certified anodizing, or maybe it’s a ski manufacturer. The beauty of economic development is it is something everyone can have a piece in. Anyone can go out and travel and talk about why you are here.”

Next week, the group will hear Gov. John Hickenlooper sing its praises when he speaks at the partnership’s annual meeting Tuesday at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The governor is to discuss the Colorado Blueprint, his oft-touted bottom-up economic development plan.

The luncheon begins at noon, but other events will go on around the convention center. Tickets are $45 per person.

For information, go to http://www.gjep.org.



COMMENTS

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I’m surprised you are not focusing strongly on recreation as a core part of the area economy, which could really grow - with increasing population, there is going to be huge demand for, and competition among, potential recreation areas. Mountain biking could be huge throughout the area, not just in fruita - Mesa, DeBeque, Whitewater, Loma - throughout. And a whole range of outdoor recreation activities. That is one thing there will never be less demand for - unlike any industry.

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