Economic development planning focuses on community image

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke, GJ Chamber

What attributes best characterize Mesa County? Is it the small-town atmosphere combined with big city amenities, the variety of outdoor recreational activities readily available or the caring nature of the residents?

Those were among the ideas suggested during a brainstorming session for conveying a community image that promotes economic development.

“They’re all very positive and, I think, very salable messages,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber is among a group of more than 20 organizations and government entities involved in writing a new economic development plan for Mesa County. Developing and promoting a community image is among three major goals for the new plan. Efforts to establish the county as an epicenter for energy research and support the growth of existing businesses also constitute major goals for the plan.

A series of brainstorming sessions have been conducted to involve the public in developing the plan and coming up with ideas to achieve the three goals. The latest session in late October focused on community image.

Schwenke said about 70 people participated in the session and proposed a number of concepts.

One idea touted the small-town feel of a community that also offers big city amenities. Another idea emphasized outdoor recreational activities, including hiking, golfing, fishing and skiing. “This is an ‘ing’ place,” Schwenke said.

Another idea focused on the Grand Valley as a regional hub for shopping, services and entertainment. And yet another idea highlighted the caring nature of residents who support philanthropic causes.

Schwenke said such messages can be used to attract tourists as well as new businesses. The question, she said, is what messages to convey and how best to convey them.

The results of the latest brainstorming session will be considered in developing a work plan to achieve the goals, Schwenke said. Different members of the group likely will have different roles in the plan.

Colorado Mesa University, for example, already has taken some steps in promoting research into traditional and renewable energy resources, she said.

The continuation of the Listening to Business program to interview business owners to identify and help them overcome barriers to growth ranked among the most popular ideas for supporting existing businesses.

Other ideas included the creation of a program to help businesses accelerate their growth, something that’s been proposed for the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction.

Public involvement in developing an economic development plan also will continue with some kind of presentation on the results of the process so far, Schwenke said.

The ultimate goal of the process, she said, is to develop a practical plan that can be implemented, not sit on a shelf. “This is not just pie in the sky.”