Changing economy dictates new land planning strategy

Jeffery Fleming
Jeffery Fleming

It’s no secret our economy is in the midst of a transition from a manufacturing base to a knowledge base, and the nature of jobs is changing with it. This puts different demands on our community for roads, buildings and land planning.

Views differ on how to plan for this transition. Retraining, re-educating and capacity building of infrastructure are three of the most common strategies. But it appears little consideration has been given to how this shift will affect the way we plan for land to accommodate job growth over the next 25 years, in particular the way we plan for the employees of these industrial companies.

Planning for industrial land historically has been accomplished by designating large areas of land in close proximity to interstate highways systems — but separated from other, more sensitive land uses. This approach assumes, though, the drivers of demand for these lands are the reduction of transportation and construction costs and perceived potential effects of heavy industry on other land uses. This might have been the case in the past, but dirty smokestacks and noisy operations no longer dominate what we would consider industry. With improved highway design, progress in construction methods and the development of automatic applications, the central drivers of demand for industrial land are shifting.

The character of jobs we typically see in industrial areas also is being transformed to include a greater proportion of early design and professional roles and a diminishing number of blue collar jobs. As this change continues, such considerations as proximity to amenities are becoming more important in enterprise positioning decisions within the industrial sector. These ever-changing needs must be understood and translated into public planning policy if we are to deliver locally on a broader economic agenda.
This means taking a fresh look at the way we move forward with our strategy for employment diversification and regulate development within industrial zones.

Restrictions for industrial zones could limit development of closer, higher-value inner city areas prime for redevelopment. The locating of industry and higher order commercial uses is a direction which we must recognize, is likely to continue to grow and, quite frankly, we’re set to capitalize on. Younger companies serving tech firms might be seen as industrial and yet operate in a clean, environmentally friendly way. They employ higher paying young professionals who appreciate the lifestyle opportunities the Grand Valley presents. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the idea industrial operations can’t successfully exist within a mixed use environment while attracting greater investment from a variety of business types that might result in a better overall development and economic outcomes.

As the picture of post-recession jobs becomes clearer, it’s critical we welcome these new industrial professionals. Our community’s strategy must be one that welcomes new ways of doing business with minimal regulatory interference. We must be prepared to accommodate the changing trends of the market. It’s important we start thinking now to better accommodate coming opportunities in our economic base.

Let’s not be afraid to listen, because we can have both economic growth and a high-quality lifestyle in the Grand Valley. As an urban planner, it’s evident we must respond to the changing market if we are to grow in sustainable ways.

Jeffery Fleming is an accredited urban planner, land advisor and principal of Colorado Land Advisor in Grand Junction. The firm works with developers, land owners and real estate agents to enhance the market value of their development properties by turning constraints into assets. Reach Fleming at 812-3288 or