Tech vet lands here because of lifestyle, an industry trend
Erica Witherspoon passed once through Grand Junction without giving it much thought as she embarked on a lifestyle and career change from employee to self-employed tech-of-all-trades.
There wasn’t much to see from Horizon Drive and she drove on, Witherspoon said.
A second visit, however, took her to Factory in downtown Grand Junction, where she realized the city was full of kindred spirits who showed her that technology had a toehold in the town.
What sealed the deal was the ochre sandstones of Colorado National Monument and the wide open spaces of western Colorado, to say nothing of the relative lack of traffic and the small-town atmosphere Witherspoon was seeking.
She settled on Grand Junction after sampling more advanced tech havens, such as Bend, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Fort Collins.
A veteran of Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo, Witherspoon said her desire to leave behind Silicon Valley and its clones is anything but atypical.
“There is absolutely a movement now, especially in the tech industry, where quality of life is starting to precede security,” Witherspoon said during a break from two projects she landed soon after starting up her business, Omnifica.com.
From her perch in the shadow of Independence Monument, Witherspoon offers a series of tech-related services, from business development, vertical marketing and sales, cloud architecture, website design, social-media marketing and so on.
The Grand Valley has plenty of attributes, Witherspoon said, not least among them its access to recreational opportunity, as a tech veteran recently wrote to her.
“I’ve been passing through the area following a career out East and couldn’t agree more with your views on the Grand Valley as a great place to be,” said one correspondent. “My background is in business consulting and technology at large firms (Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AT Kearney, etc.) as well as some time as an independent / entrepreneur. Following a partial retirement I’m getting focused on iPhone development with the thought of doing some freelancing interspersed with hiking and camping my way through the Southwestern parks.”
Grand Junction, though, also has much to overcome, Witherspoon said.
Downtown areas, with restaurants, entertainment venues and night life, are a natural draw for the entrepreneurial, tech-savvy people who savor an urban environment.
Grand Junction’s downtown, however, is “archaic in every single way,” in need of modern office spaces that would lend themselves to the kinds of environments that the tech industry tends to favor, Witherspoon said.
Newcomers will have to acknowledge that they can’t command the pay they do in better-known tech environments because local companies in need of tech help simply aren’t making enough money — yet, Witherspoon said.
“I’m not sure the Grand Junction business community has wrapped its head around” the need to understand data and how to make use of it, she said. “I think one big opportunity that exists here is to help business understand successful marketing,” Witherspoon said.