Rough times for economic development

These are difficult times for those involved with economic development, not just in western Colorado but across the nation.

Although there are more and more signs that the economy is slowly recovering from the recession that began almost four years ago, financing remains tough and markets aren’t growing rapidly. As a result, most businesses are content to hunker down where they are, not look for new communities to which they might relocate.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership is no exception to economic development agencies facing tough times. It hasn’t had a big score in terms of recruiting a major new business to this valley in some time. And last week its executive director, Ann Driggers, announced she will be stepping down.

Despite these issues, however, GJEP remains as important to this community as ever, perhaps more so.

GJEP was forged in the dark economic days following the oil shale bust of the mid-1980s, with the help of former Daily Sentinel Publisher Jim Kennedy.

Originally called the Mesa County Economic Development Council, it helped diversify the local economy, which had been so heavily dependent on the energy industry.

The community needs to recommit to GJEP now, even though it’s a different situation than in the 1980s. Then, the national economy was in full-blown recovery, while the local situation was dismal. There were many more businesses across the country at that time willing to consider a move to a place where land was relatively inexpensive and wages were low. Later, as the local economy improved more companies were eager to consider moving here.

Of course, economic development is easiest when the economy is booming. But it’s most necessary at the low point in the economic cycle.

And, while making big scores — recruiting large businesses to move to your community — are what draw notoriety and the public’s attention, they are just one part of what a good economic development agency does.

Helping local businesses to grow and add jobs to the community is equally important. Assisting ski-lift maker Leitner-Poma to move to new quarters in the Grand Valley and aiding aerospace parts manufacturer Lewis Engineering with its expansion are several recent examples of GJEP doing just that.

Recruiting carefully, to ensure that the community is not simply attracting businesses that will take advantage of a few years of tax breaks and then move on, is equally important and something that GJEP concentrates on accomplishing.

As GJEP searches for a new CEO, it will continue to look for ways to boost the local economy, recruiting new businesses and assisting existing ones.

As it does so, it will need continued support from local governments such as the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County, from the business community and from area citizens.

We’re all in this together. Supporting GJEP is one way we can work to get this community on its feet.


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