Another hard lesson

The emergence of a foreign trade zone as an important economic development tool tracks along an all-too-familiar learning curve for this community.

It’s only through lost opportunities that value for certain things seem to register. Had the foreign trade zone already existed, a well-known outdoor retailer would have relocated to Grand Junction, bolstering efforts to brand our community as an outdoors mecca. Instead, that company went to Utah.

Along those same lines, The USA Pro Challenge wanted to kick off its professional road race in Grand Junction. Given an opportunity to cement Grand Junction’s reputation as a world-class biking destination, the Grand Junction City Council demurred. By the time a grassroots campaign swooped in to save the deal, the tour itself had folded. Perhaps the two aren’t unrelated.

It’s not just the city. Mesa County commissioners have been reluctant to fund economic development efforts. They say their contribution is in providing infrastructure. But attracting new business takes actual discretionary dollars, which are in woefully short supply to do the job at hand. That’s the assessment of a consulting firm which urged officials to carve out a revenue stream dedicated to attracting new businesses.

The foreign trade zone isn’t a new concept. Officials talked about it a few years ago, but failed to make any progress. But new leadership in the form of City Manager Greg Caton and Grand Junction Economic Partnership executive director Kristi Pollard has given the idea fresh energy. Pollard and Diane Schwenke of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce are spearheading the information-gathering and cost-benefit analysis.

A foreign trade zone here would be the only one between Denver and Salt Lake City. Municipalities and nonprofits can seek federal approval for foreign trade zone status. Once given, it offers local manufacturers tax breaks on imported and exported goods.

As The Sentinel’s Amy Hamilton reported Tuesday, Schwenke told Grand Junction City Council members Monday that start-up fees to apply for the foreign trade zone status range from $30,000 to $75,000, including consultant fees. Annual fees may run up to $160,000, mostly for the cost of a customs agent.

That may seem expensive, but all we have to do is look at what we lost by not having a foreign trade zone to get some perspective. Business that benefit from the trade zone will pay fees to use it. The zone can include businesses that operate within a 90-mile radius, giving local officials latitude to invite neighboring municipalities to share in the costs and benefits.

The city of Fruita has already committed $30,000 to becoming a partner in the foreign trade zone. No surprise there as Fruita consistently exploits every opportunity to improve its economic position.

Already there are signs that Grand Junction city officials understand what’s at stake, here. Barbara Traylor Smith cautioned that it’s not intended to be a money-maker. But GJEP can market it in a way that’s truly an asset, Pollard said.

We urge the city and county to recruit partners to defray costs. Failing that, officials should knuckle down and make it happen on the promise that it can create jobs.


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