Proactive process: New director plans more aggressive approach to economic development

Kelly Flenniken brings a new title and a new role to a new approach to economic development.

As executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, Flenniken will oversee efforts to leverage local business connections in proactively developing leads for new and expanding companies. “We’re going to be more aggressive going forward,” she says.

Flenniken served for five months as interim executive director of GJEP, a private, nonprofit group that promotes job creation through business attraction and expansion. The GJEP board of directors decided to remove interim from her title after conducting a national job search and considering 80 applications for the post.

Flenniken succeeds Ann Driggers, who served nine years as GJEP director before resigning in May.

Steve Gunderson, regional president of U.S. Bank and chairman of the GJEP board, says Flenniken performed well in what was essentially an extended interview and brings to the role important knowledge of local resources and leaders. “She knows the players in the area very well and gets along with them very well,” Gunderson says.

Moreover, Flenniken fared well in comparison to applicants from other areas of the country, Gunderson says. “Really what you get in your own back yard is somebody extremely qualified to do the job.”

Flenniken joined GJEP in November 2008 as business development manager. She soon earned recognition for her role in developing a marketing and communications plan that included a new brochure and revamped Web site. In September 2010, the International Economic Development Council presented an Excellence in Economic Development Award to GJEP

for the best Web site for an organization from a community with 25,000 to 250,000 people.

In April, the Economic Development Council of Colorado named Flenniken as its Rookie of the Year, an award presented to an economic development professional who’s worked in Colorado for

at least one year, but not more than three years.

Prior to joining GJEP, Flenniken held positions in the public sector with Denver Parks and Recreation and the City of Chicago.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Knox College as well as a paralegal degree from Loyola University Chicago.

Flenniken expects her experience to serve her well in her latest position as GJEP director, including the ability to develop strong professional relationships, work with government officials and represent the community.

In addition to overseeing administrative functions, Flenniken says she must remain a “good stewart” of the money 150 businesses and organizations have invested in GJEP.

At the same time, Flenniken views her role as that of a “connector” between businesses that want to open or expand operations in Mesa County and the resources that help them accomplish those goals.

While GJEP long has performed well in responding to inquiries from businesses interested in opening or expanding operations in Mesa County, Flenniken says she hopes to pursue a more proactive approach in also developing leads for those businesses.

To that end, Flenniken says she plans to work more closely with GJEP board members and other local business leaders to tap their connections. Chances are, those people know suppliers and other business owners in their industries who might be interested in bringing operations — and jobs — to Mesa County. Those people can not only help identify prospects, but also recruit them.

Gunderson agrees. “Now we want to add to that the ability to effectively reach out and find those companies that could be interested in coming.”

Gunderson says it’s a more cost-effective approach to economic development made possible by a more engaged GJEP board. “It’s kind of a new way to do that.”

At the same time, Flenniken says GJEP will continue to work with other business groups and government organizations on what has become increasingly collaborative economic development efforts.

GJEP is among a group of more than 20 organizations that’s been working since the beginning of the year to develop an economic development plan for Mesa County as part of a grass roots initiative by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. The county plan has been integrated into regional and state plans.

The local plan includes three major goals: establish Mesa County as an epicenter for energy research, support the growth of existing businesses and develop and promote a community image. A series of public brainstorming sessions have been held to develop specific ideas for achieving those goals.

In addition to a range of services available to prospects, GJEP offers some incentives to businesses opening or expanding operations — including free or discounted land. Nonetheless, GJEP and Colorado remain at a disadvantage in offering the substantial cash incentives providing in other parts of the United States to recruit businesses, Flenniken says.

What Mesa County can offer, she says, is a business-friendly environment, a university that educates the work force and a lifestyle that offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities.

GJEP continues to work with what Flenniken characterizes as “solid” prospects, most of them manufacturers, as economic development activity picks up.

While competition for new and expanding businesses and they jobs they bring to a community remains fierce, Flenniken says she’s optimistic about the more aggressive approach GJEP will bring to the process.

“It’s very exciting to be a part of it right now,” she says.

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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