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Economic development planning efforts involve business

Efforts are under way to draft an economic development plan for Mesa County based in large part on what business owners and managers see as opportunities and challenges.

In addition to answering questions on an online survey, business people and others interested in business are encouraged to attend a two-hour planning session set for Feb. 22 to share their perspectives in person.

“We’re going to slap a lot of ideas along the wall and see what sticks,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Diane Schwenke

Diane Schwenke

Chris Reddin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction, said she hopes to tap into the innovative nature of entrepreneurs in developing the plan. “I just love that we’re looking for new ideas.”

Ann Driggers, executive director and CEO of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, expects the grassroots effort to ultimately pay off in a more unified approach among various groups involved in economic development. “We need to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

The chamber, Business Incubator Center, GJEP and a host of other local organizations involved in economic development and business — a group known collectively as the Economic Development Partners — are working collaboratively on the plan.

The effort follows a call from newly elected Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper for each county in the state to draft an economic development plan and then integrate those plans into regional and statewide programs to promote business and create jobs.

At the same time, though, Driggers said there’s an opportunity to develop a county plan that takes into account current conditions as well as fosters a more comprehensive approach. Local chambers of commerce, government entities, the Business Incubator Center and GJEP all have their own individual missions and strategies for economic development, she said. But it could be helpful to better coordinate the activities of those diverse groups.

Ann Driggers

Ann Driggers

It’s important, too, to involve the businesses that capitalize on opportunities and create jobs, Driggers added.

To that end, the e-mail lists of the organizations involved in the Economic Development Partners were combined and more than 6,000 online surveys were sent out to businesses and individuals. The survey also is available on the Grand Junction chamber website at www.gjchamber.org.

The survey poses nine questions about doing business in the Grand Valley, asking respondents to identify some of the important attributes of the area, what they see as opportunities for business growth and job creation and what industry sectors offer the most potential for future growth. Respondents also are asked about their ideas for economic development strategies.

In addition, respondents are asked to identify the major challenges they face to doing business in the Grand Valley and what one thing they would like to see done to help existing businesses. The survey also asks what local cities and the county as well as the state should do support business growth and job creation.

As of press deadline on Feb. 7, nearly 400 survey responses had been submitted, Schwenke said. Survey responses will be accepted through Feb. 15.

In addition to the survey, a two-hour planning session on economic development is scheduled for 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Feb. 22 at the Mesa State College Center, located at 1455 N. 12th St. on the Grand Junction campus.

The session will be held in conjunction with a free resource fair at the center that will offer business consulting and workshops on such subjects as financing, startups and working with the government. More information about the resource fair is available at the Business Incubator Center website at www.gjincubator.org.

While the survey results will offer something of a snapshot of  opinions about economic development, the planning session will offer an opportunity to get into the details of promoting business and creating jobs, Schwenke said.

Chris Reddin

Chris Reddin

Reddin said she’s looking forward to what she termed a brainstorming session with business owners and entrepreneurs.

The results of the survey and planning session will be incorporated into the economic development plan for Mesa County, which Driggers expects to be completed over the next two months.

After plans are written in Mesa County and other West Slope counties, Driggers anticipates a meeting of members of the Western  Colorado Economic Alliance to share ideas and goals. That will assure the region will be well-represented in statewide economic development efforts, she added.

Schwenke, Reddin and Driggers all said Mesa County offers unique attributes that encourage economic development, among them abundant natural resources, status as a regional shopping and health care hub and urban amenities not available in other cities of the same size. It’s a question, they said, of taking advantage of those attributes in building brand awareness in a competitive marketplace.

Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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