Executive: Mesa County good site for business

John Frank
John Frank

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Mesa County offers an attractive place in which to do business with comparably inexpensive electricity and water, a lower cost of living and eager work force, according to an executive involved in site selection.

It’s a matter of communicating that message in the right way to the right industries, said John Frank, a senior vice president with CH2M Hill. “Leveraging your strengths is going to be key.”

Frank offered his assessment on Mesa County as a potential site for businesses as part of his keynote presentation at the annual meeting of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The nonprofit group promotes job creation through business attraction and expansion.

Frank serves as senior vice president of industrial and advanced technology for CH2M Hill. The Denver-based company offers a wide range of design, construction and management services for government and private-sector clients worldwide. The company has annual gross revenues of more than $6 billion and a staff of more than 26,000. Frank has been involved in multiple site selection programs as well as site and community development, financial analysis and incentive package creation.

Frank conducted research on Mesa County and personally spent several days in the area. “The bottom line: I’ve been impressed with this area and community,” he said.

While various incentives are one factor business executives consider in deciding where to locate a company or its operations, many other quantitative and qualitative factors are involved and could be even more important, he said.

It’s important in promoting economic development and recruiting businesses to think like a chief executive officer in analyzing ahead of time the calculations involved in a site selection and what a specific business needs, he said.

For many industry sectors and individual businesses, the cost of electricity is among the most important factors in site selection, Frank said. Mesa County has an advantage in that its electric rates are about half those charged on the Front Range and there’s capacity for increased use, he said. “That’s a real upside.”

Water and taxes also are comparably less expensive in Mesa County, he said, as is the cost of living.

While he said he personally encountered mostly workers in the services sectors, Frank said the Mesa County labor force appears to be a productive one. “I was impressed with the young, eager work force.”

In recruiting businesses and assisting with site selection, Frank said its important  a community works together through a single entity, like GJEP, rather than presenting multiple offers from multiple groups. “You want to have that single voice.”

A group also must be responsive in providing the information a potential business needs in the format it requests, he added.

While nearly every community touts it’s good weather, a place like Mesa County has a legitimate advantage in promoting an area with abundant sunshine that can power solar systems and lower insurance rates that reflect the decreased probability of such natural disasters as earthquakes and tornadoes, Frank said.

It’s important, too, that communities don’t overpromise what they can offer or employ bait-and-switch tactics, he said.

The competition to recruit new businesses has become global, Frank said. But at the same time, many foreign companies are looking for opportunities in the United States.

And even small communities can attract big operations, he added. He cited as an example the announcement Tesla Motors will open a $5 billion facility billed as a “gigafactory” to manufacture electric car batteries in Sparks, Nev., a city of about 90,000.

“Small communities have the ability to hit the home run,” Frank said.

Frank praised the marketing efforts of GJEP, in particular an effort that resulted in a 36-page spread about Mesa County in an issue of the US Airways in-flight magazine earlier this year.

In deciding which industries to target, the potential for bringing high-paying jobs  to an area and creating additional indirect jobs is important, Frank said. Advanced manufacturers not only pay high salaries but also tend to create indirect jobs, he said. “That has a huge ripple effect.”