Phil Castle, The Business Times
Gene Fourney was growing disenchanted with Denver — the increasing traffic congestion in general and rising cost of housing in particular. “The rental situation in Denver was the last straw.”
Fourney decided to move to Grand Junction late last year and bring along his internet marketing and web development firm. He says he found everything he was looking for in a location with not only less traffic and lower rental rates, but also a mild climate and ample outdoor recreational opportunities. “This is one of the best places I’ve ever lived in my life.”
Fourney, president and chief executive officer of InteractiveWest and TechnologyWest, suspects he won’t be alone in migrating from the Front Range to the Grand Valley.
He cites a study that found that two-thirds of people who rent in Denver plan to move to another city because of increasing housing prices. Rents have jumped more than 50 percent between 2005 and 2015 even as the average price of homes sold in metropolitan Denver now tops $500,000. Most of those people love Colorado, though, and want to move to other areas of the states, including the Western Slope, he says.
That presents an opportunity for the Grand Valley to attract entrepreneurs and their ventures as well as the growing proportion of people who work remotely, Fourney says.
While there are many advantages to do so, there’s also one disadvantage to address, he says, and that’s a shallow labor pool of tech-savvy workers. “That’s the future, and you’re either preparing for the future or not.”
Fourney runs a business that offers a range of services related to internet marketing and website development. He works for clients in a variety of industry sectors across Colorado, including clients on the Western Slope and in the Grand Valley.
By using a team of remote workers with diverse expertise, Fourney says the business combines the personal attention and lower costs of a one-man shop with the capability of a large company to quickly complete projects.
Fourney also launched TechnologyWest to provide such information technology services as backup, network design, server management and migration, security and technical support.
While InteractiveWest still has an office in Denver, Fourney runs his ventures from the Factory, a coworking facility in downtown Grand Junction that offers office and work space along with high-speed internet access and video conferencing equipment. The Factory was another attraction to the Grand Valley, he says. “It’s huge. I would not be in the Grand Valley if this were not here.”
Fourney brings to his enterprises the experiences he’s gleaned from a long and varied career in which he managed NASCAR programming for a radio network and launched an internet service provider that at one time served more 7,500 customers in North Carolina. He also worked as a marketing consultant for a resort in Maine and ran a full-service advertising and marketing agency in Denver.
Fourney launched the Highlands Group in Denver in 2004, offering advertising and marketing services to such clients as the Colorado Technology Association, Colorado Film Commission and Race Across America.
He moved to the Aspen area and renamed the firm InteractiveWest in 2009, but moved back to Denver three years later to take on a large project with the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Fourney says a series of factors prompted him to move again in November 2017, among them increasing traffic congestion and rising rents in Denver.
He says he found in Grand Junction a place with rents two to three times lower than Denver, a mild climate and lots of places to ride his bike.
Fourney says he’s hardly alone among people in Denver facing challenges with the rising cost of housing.
While the strong job market attracts people to the Denver area, people realize they’ll have difficulty settling down and buying a home because of the rising prices. That prompts them to look at other areas of Colorado, including the Western Slope and Grand Valley, he says. Some of them will bring businesses with them.
The RockyMounts bicycle rack manufacturer announced in June it will relocate its headquarters from Boulder to a business park under development near Las Colonias Park in Grand Junction.
Bobby Noyes, founder and president of RockyMounts, said he was looking for a larger facility as well as a different location for his operation and staff, one that offered more affordable housing.
Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said at the time RockyMounts and other companies are interested in the decreased costs and increased quality of life available in the Grand Valley. “Companies are growing tired of metropolitan areas and their long commutes, high real estate costs and congested neighborhoods. They want good business conditions without compromising on quality of life. We believe we can offer that here in Colorado’s Grand Valley.”
Fourney says the Grand Valley offers other advantages to businesses, including its central location between Denver and Salt Lake City, highway and rail access and a regional airport with commercial service.
One disadvantage, he says, is a shortage of workers with tech skills, including computer coding.
Fourney says one way to address that shortage would be to offer more instruction. He cites as an example efforts to turn Fresno, Calif., a traditionally agricultural area, into a tech hub. Education was a most important piece in teaching people the skills they needed to become introductory employees in the tech sector and expand the availability of talent for tech firms.
Fourney says he’s glad he made the move from Denver to Grand Junction and is looking forward to growing his business operations.
He also says he’s grateful for the reception and encouragement he’s received since he moved. “It’s been very welcoming.”