A chance to reconsider economic development

Economic development is in one sense an evolutionary process. The business of attracting new businesses and jobs constantly changes, in large part because of changing markets and economic circumstances.

The situation has been no different for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and its predecessor organization. Formed in 1980s in the aftermath of the oil shale bust in Western Colorado, the group has recruited a number of companies to the Grand Valley, among them DT Swiss, Reynolds Polymer, Twin Otter International and Western Slope Industries.

But as economic development became more competitive and a recession and ongoing uncertainty has stopped many companies from considering relocation, GJEP has had to adopt and also became involved in promoting the expansion of existing businesses. The most notable example so far has been the construction of a 90,000-square foot facility for Leitner-Poma of America and Prinoth that opened in 2009.

Other aspects of economic development have changed as well, in particular the increasing use of the Internet by economic development groups trying to attract companies as well as the companies themselves looking for new opportunities. GJEP won an award last year from the International Economic Development Council for developing what that group deemed was the best Web site for a community with 25,000 to 250,000 residents.

Now comes an opportunity to consider the next direction for GJEP.

The GJEP board of directors plans to deliberate that very topic during a retreat, a gathering made all the more important by the resignation of Ann Driggers as president and chief executive officer of the group.

Steve Gunderson, chairman of the GJEP board, praised Driggers for her 10 years of service to GJEP and positioning the group to continue its efforts. But Gunderson also acknowledged it’s a good time to discuss GJEP and what type of person should lead the organization.

That discussion should be as wide open as the possibilities for the future of economic development in Mesa County.

Given the challenges involved in recruiting new businesses to the area, perhaps GJEP should focus still more on the retention and expansion of existing businesses or find ways to promote the creation of more vendors to meet local needs. Maybe GJEP should seek out new partnerships with other business organizations or consolidate efforts. There’s the potential for a new and different role for GJEP.

It remains important for business and business relocation professionals to have a single point of contact in Mesa County. It’s equally important that a single and ready source of information about the area remain available. Moreover, it makes sense for a single organization to lead economic development efforts and coordinate any activities of other groups involved in that process.

Otherwise, there’s no time quite like the present to consider the continued evolution of economic development and GJEP.