Forum focuses on economic development issues

A day-long forum addressed challenges and opportunities for economic development in Western Colorado, including those related to work force development, recruiting business and commercial air service.

The Economic Development Council of Colorado hosted the forum at the Bridges Golf Course in Montrose. The EDCC promotes education and training for economic development professionals and advocates for public policies that strengthen the economy.

The event focused on economic development in Mesa County as well as two regions that encompass an 11-county area of the Western Slope. The forum offered economic overviews of Mesa County and the other two regions as well as presentations on topics related to economic development. A total of more than 100 economic development professionals, policy leaders and business people attended.

Josh Hudnall, co-founder and co-director of the LaunchWest CO initiative in Grand Junction, and Dennis Lankes, co-founder of the  Proximity Space in Montrose, were among  the presenters on a panel examining the changing workforce and its infrastructure needs.

Hudnall said members of the millennial generation need “a sense of purpose and community in their workplace.”

Internet access is important as well, Lankes said. “Just like the expectation of being able to turn a light on, today’s work force has the expectation of staying connected.” Lankes said.

Sara Maffey Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Edgewood Strategies, was among the presenters on a panel exploring ways for rural communities to attract businesses to their area.

“Think regionally,” Duncan said. “If you can work together as a region, you can then help answer work force questions rural communities face. It also gives a variety of lifestyle options for a company who is looking in your area.”

Kip Turner, director of the Grand Junction Regional Airport, and Matt Skinner, chief operating officer for Colorado Flights Alliance, were among the presenters on a panel on commercial air service and its effects on the local business climate.

Skinner said Western Slope airports have approached declining commercial capacity on a regional basis.

“Montrose has increased by 5 percent in seats since 2011,” Matt said. “We attribute this largely to our regional focus. When the oil and gas companies started to exit the Grand Junction market and the airport couldn’t fill their seat capacity, Montrose helped back-fill those seats to prevent losing the flight for the Western Slope.”