What don’t we have?
Stephanie Copeland wasn’t in Grand Junction Thursday to discuss the merits of an event center.
But in laying out the state’s economic development initiatives, the new director of the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade stressed the importance of “placemaking vision” as a nexus to growth. An event center, in our view, certainly qualifies as a visionary project.
Lifestyle, access to workforce and vibrancy are the key considerations for companies looking to establish operations in Colorado, she said.
“Grand Junction has infrastructure and an airport and interstate access and the things that are core to a city growing and becoming a hub,” she said. “When you have those things, you look to the other elements around and ask, ‘How do I seed music and the creative arts? How do I seed things that really become the backdrop of where people want to live?’”
OEDIT is ramping up its “ability to provide placemaking vision such that people can make methodic investments in themselves and set themselves up for growth,” Copeland said.
For Delta, that means curating a farm-to-table agricultural industry to offset job losses in coal mining. Montrose might want to develop industry clusters around kayaking and fly fishing, she said.
The agency’s job is to intervene in collaborative ways with Colorado communities without dictating what they want to be and provide toolkits to identify assets and leverage them into new opportunities — what Copeland calls “green shoots.”
While the state continues to attract high-profile companies that want to seize on the high quality of life, OEDIT incentive packages have shifted to maximize benefits to rural areas.
“Green shoots” can be nurtured with tools aimed specifically at rural economies. One is a $2 million microloan program. It provides a backstop to conventional lenders to encourage them to help startups and small businesses get access to capital. OEDIT is also working on tax incentives provided through small-business districts.
When a company contacts the OEDIT about relocating to Colorado, Copeland said the first question she asks is whether they would consider the Western Slope or the Eastern Plains.
They respond with their own questions: What’s the workforce development like? What are the bars and restaurants like? What are the outdoor sports like? Is it a place my employees are going to want to be? Is it a place I can attract talent?”
“If I say, ‘I think so,’ and they go to that community and don’t see that, it’s a high road to nowhere,” she told the Sentinel’s editorial board.
Grand Junction is competing against other communities on the basis of lifestyle issues. Tax burden wasn’t one of the factors Copeland mentioned. But broadband and millennials were.
Millennials want to be in places where there’s good live music, access to outdoor recreation, interesting restaurants and where they can have a good work-life balance, Copeland said.
“Grand Junction needs to look at where people are competing to live,” she said. “What do they have that Grand Junction doesn’t?”