Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robin Brown envisioned modernizing the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.
The pandemic accelerated those efforts. Instead of dropping in at trade shows and cold-calling businesses to convince them to move to the Grand Valley, GJEP lets the interested parties come to them and is focusing on growing businesses already here.
“We’ve actually had to ramp up operations,” said Brown, the executive director of GJEP. “We’ve had four businesses move here since the pandemic started.”
GJEP essentially attracts and persuades businesses to move their operations to Grand Junction and assist workers or businesses that are in the process of moving to the city. On its website, GJEP has information about financial incentives, life in the city, and real estate listings. GJEP focuses on attracting businesses from seven industries: agriculture, energy, health care, tech, aviation/aerospace, manufacturing and outdoor recreation.
To modernize GJEP, Brown, who assumed her role in 2017, has moved away from taking out ads in magazines and making regular appearances at trade shows, instead letting interested companies come to them.
“We realized that most businesses that moved here had some sort of connection to the valley,” Brown said. “If you’ve never heard of Grand Junction before, you’re probably not going to move your business here.”
Looking for a busy nightlife with miles of bars to visit on a Saturday night? Grand Junction might not be for you. Nor is it for the shopaholic who wants a bustling mall.
Because of that reality, GJEP makes sure to let people know who thrives in Grand Junction and who doesn’t. The organization gives tours of the valley to people from interested businesses so that they get a feel for the area.
“We gave one tour to someone who asked to check out the mall because they love to shop,” Brown said. “I instantly thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t the place for you.’ They did move their business here but left pretty quickly.”
Instead, the people who thrive here, the people that GJEP tends to attract, are those who like the ease of Western Slope life.
Out of necessity, businesses have adopted remote working. As such, Brown said, many are re-evaluating where their offices are located. Mara Hardy, a business development manager at GJEP who focuses on the tech, aerospace and health care industries, pointed out that not only are large cities more susceptible to COVID-19 spread, but they also are less convenient for those looking to go out into nature.
“We’ve seen more companies move from urban areas to rural ones,” she said. “I’m talking with a business that wants to move here from Texas. The founder spent time in Vail before, so he’s heard of us. He’s been stuck in a city during the pandemic with two small kids. He wants to come here because of the outdoors and the low COVID numbers.”
Since businesses are seeing that remote working can be beneficial, more are looking to areas such as Grand Junction.
Such is the case with INFOCU5, a startup tech company headquartered in Telluride. The company previously had an office in Pasadena but moved it to Grand Junction in June.
Trisha Phillips, marketing and public relations manager at INFOCU5, said that the move was easy. The company has locations in Denver and Montrose, as well, so the move to Grand Junction makes it entirely Colorado based and connects the company to other rural communities in western Colorado. The prime spots for going out into nature and the mountains doesn’t hurt, either.
“We’re really impressed by the workforce here,” Phillips said. “The workforce seems committed to working hard and playing hard, and that fits with our company culture.”
While the pandemic has sent the country into another economic recession, Hardy sees light at the end of the tunnel and continued economic potential in Grand Junction.
“We’re expecting business to return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2021,” she said. “So it’s nice to know that this recession won’t last a decade like the 2008 recession and that our local businesses have that hope.”