Communities that attract entrepreneurs and build strong, growing businesses tend to have a major research university, lots of PhDs, and a pack of venture capitalists throwing money at new inventions. Just go visit a start-up event in Boulder and you will find this exact combination creating tremendous momentum. When smart people couple with big-time financing, high-growth companies start blooming. The Grand Valley lacks all of these factors and yet is a thriving entrepreneurial community. So why exactly do people start their own companies here?
I think it starts with an independent Western mind-set and an interest in solving problems ourselves. I grew up back east and I felt like there was a general sentiment that when looking to solve a problem you sought out an authority figure of some form (an expert or experienced guide) to assist you. For example, if you software system is not working, hire a consultant. If your lobby needs updating, call a designer firm. Sure that all happens here, but generally I believe people try to fix it themselves first. The Western culture is not one where we “don’t bother with it”, we dig in and try to find our own solution. This mentality is well suited for entrepreneurship. When people here find that they want a solution to their problems, they often become inspired to turn that experience into a business.
Add to that the fact that the Grand Valley has only a handful of large corporations, and 88 percent of the firms in our community have fewer than ten employees. Mix in the fact that it is relatively easy to start a business in Colorado (see the Colorado Secretary of State office for details – www.colorado.gov/cbe). And then top it off with demand for a wide variety of specialized services in sectors such as natural gas, health care, and recreation. This is not the kind of recipe or blend of factors that makes communities like Boston or San Francisco entrepreneurial, but it is what drives our local economy.
Sometimes the choices we make about our professional careers have, at the core, more to do with our personal priorities than anything else. In digging deeper into what drives people to “put up a shingle” and go into businesses of their own, it really comes down to lifestyle. I believe that many people choose to have their own business in order to take advantage of the flexibility this type of career gives them to accommodate other priorities.
In Grand Junction, Tim Fry of Mountain Racing Products has to travel to Taiwan to meet the needs of his growing client base in Asia while manufacturing bicycle components here locally for the US market. Yet, Tim finds time for his family and several community boards including Caprock Academy and GJEP. In Fruita, Jen Zeuner and Anne Keller at Hot Tomato Café have blended their passions for mountain biking, pizza, and good times into a strong business model. And in Palisade, Naomi Shepard-Smith shares her passion for art with wine at Grand Valley Vineyards. There are thousands of other examples, but in each case, people are finding ways to have a successful professional life in balance with all the rest: with family, with recreation, and with passions that fulfill the spirit.
The same things that make the Valley so attractive (a family-friendly community, abundant outdoor activities, and proximity to the mountains, the desert, rivers, and canyons) also make this a wonderful place to run your own business. Business owners do get to decide how much to take on and when to do it, and along with that freedom comes a lot of work and a huge challenge. Still, it’s a workable and popular method to get more out of our Grand Valley lifestyle. Is it the road map for you? That’s something to think about.