GJEP supports energy industry, but other economic ‘baskets,’ too
By Kelly Flenniken
As anyone who knows me can attest, I speak about economic development and its importance to anyone willing to listen. The Grand Junction Lions Club recently provided such an opportunity, and I was thrilled to address the group, share the Grand Junction Economic Partnership’s mission and outline the work we are doing to advance the economic ball in our community.
At the meeting, I was asked whether GJEP is putting too much emphasis on the energy industry and not focusing enough on ensuring economic diversity. This is a vitally important question — one to which we are very sensitive. Those who have been in town long enough know the energy industry is cyclical and was in fact an impetus for forming GJEP nearly 30 years ago.
At that time, our local economy was heavily dependent on the energy industry. When Exxon closed its Colony Oil Shale Project, 25,000 citizens left this community in a matter of weeks, and the area fell into deep recession. Community leaders formed GJEP (previously known as the Mesa County Economic Development Council) in order to diversify our economy so it would be less susceptible to the boom-and-bust nature of the energy industry.
While there is still plenty of work to be done, we have made great progress. In fact, I would argue that, had GJEP and its partners not worked so hard to diversify our base all these years, the valley would be in an even deeper recession than it has been.
It is clear, from the recent commentary in The Daily Sentinel, that I could have done a better job responding to the question of whether too many eggs are in the energy basket.
The mission of GJEP is to enhance the economic vitality, creating a strong, diverse economy and an improved quality of life for the citizens of Mesa County. While the energy industry remains a critical focus in our community for obvious reasons, it is only one of the industries GJEP focuses on, and it currently accounts for only 25 percent of GJEP’s active prospects.
GJEP works to attract primary businesses in five target industries: aviation/aerospace, health care, information technology/professional services, energy (all forms) and outdoor gear manufacturing and distribution.
After working with West Star Aviation and the Grand Junction Airport Authority for the past several months, GJEP was thrilled to be a part of the announcement of West Star’s significant expansion. The news could not have come at a better time. West Star will create brand-new jobs and provide Grand Junction, Mesa County and Colorado with millions of dollars in economic impact and advancement in the aviation/aerospace industry.
Earlier this year, GJEP awarded incentives to a local company to enhance and certify a manufacturing process that has long been desired in our community — nationally certified anodizing. GJEP did this project as a competitive request for proposals, with the knowledge this process will strengthen the aerospace industry in the region. With 6 percent of GJEP prospects in the aviation/aerospace industry, that segment is alive and growing in our community.
GJEP is partnering with the city of Grand Junction and Epic Rides to put together an exciting event that will take place this coming Labor Day weekend. The Grand Junction Off-Road, a pro-am mountain bike race, provides GJEP with a wonderful opportunity to promote our community to outdoor gear manufacturers and enthusiasts.
GJEP will host an outdoor expo showcasing companies that call the Western Slope home, as well as national companies that may one day do the same. We intend to invite site selectors and specific companies to join us for a genuine Grand Valley experience. Nineteen percent of our active prospects are outdoor-related businesses, and we hope to see that figure grow as a result of this event.
GJEP is working with several prospects in a wide variety of industries, and that breakdown demonstrates the diversity of companies we hope to welcome to our community, as well as those already part of our community we hope to help expand. Six percent of our prospects are agricultural-based businesses, 15 percent are healthcare-related and the remaining 29 percent are IT/professional services.
So much of GJEP’s work must be done behind the scenes in order to provide prospects with the confidentiality they require. We welcome companies from any and all industries that may be a good fit for our community. The energy industry will remain an important basket for the Western Slope, but GJEP works diligently to ensure a diversity of industry baskets receive our focus.
Kelly Flenniken is the executive director of Grand Junction Economic Partnership.