Phil Castle, The Business Times
Even as efforts continue to develop the economy, the Grand Valley also makes progress on what’s been identified as priorities for education and promoting the outdoor recreation and technology sectors.
That demonstrates the Grand Valley can achieve other goals, said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. “We set the bar too low.”
Brown reported on the activities of the economic development organization as well as progress on 10 priorities during a presentation at the Western Colorado Economic Summit. The event also serves as an annual meeting for GJEP.
“2018 was a fast and furious year,” Brown said. GJEP assisted in relocating seven companies to the Grand Valley. Those firms, in turn, created 57 jobs. Between the jobs and capital investments, the contribution to the local economy totaled $19 million, she said.
That means every dollar invested in GJEP resulted in $32 worth of economic contributions, Brown said. “I think that’s a good return.”
At the same time, the Grand Valley has made progress on what were identified at the 2017 summit as 10 priorities. The idea, Brown said, was to work through the priorities in order as part of efforts to realize a vision of what the community could look like in 2030.
Progress has been made in two years in what initially was expected to take 13 years, Brown said.
The top priority was improving public education. In 2017, voters approved an increase in the property tax mill levy and a bond issue to provide more funding to Mesa County School District 51 for new schools and school repairs, additional instruction, technology and books.
The second priority was an initiative to increase enrollment at Colorado Mesa University along with community support. CMU ranks among the fastest-growing universities in not only Colorado, but also the county. More, CMU remains a “bright spot” for the local economy, Brown said.
The third priority was to create a hub for companies involved in outdoor recreation. Brown said work is under way on developing a business park near Las Colonias Park in downtown Grand Junction that will include new quarters for Bonsai Design and RockyMounts. Bonsai Design designs, builds and installs adventure courses and ziplines for customers around the world. RockyMounts, a bicycle rack manufacturer, will relocate its headquarters from Boulder to the new park.
The fourth priority was to grow the technology industry. Brown said Mesa County ranked 22nd among small metropolitan areas for growth in gross domestic product in the high-tech sector from 2016 to 2017 in the latest Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index. Moreover, Wren Industries in Grand Junction was named aerospace and electronics manufacturer of the year at the recent Colorado Manufacturing Awards presentation.
The fifth priority was to add more flights to the commercial air service provided at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. Brown said Allegiant has added a flight to Phoenix, while United Airlines plans to add seasonal service to Chicago starting in June. Voters approved an increase in the Grand Junction lodging tax, a portion of which will go to the Grand Junction Regional Air Service Alliance to support additional direct flights to and from the airport.
Additional progress has been made on still other priorities, Brown said, including improvements along Horizon Drive and voter-approved increases in funding for public safety.
A ballot measure that would have increased Grand Junction sales and use taxes to construct a community center failed. Additional work still is needed along North Avenue, Brown said.
Overall, the fact so much progress was made on so many priorities indicates the bar was set too low, Brown said.
Moreover, the Grand Valley remains well-positioned to achieve other goals, including efforts to relocate the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Brown said. The same hold trues for efforts to recruit more aerospace manufacturers.
Still, more work is needed to improve two more indicators Brown said she tracks. At $42,000, the average annual wage in Mesa County remains well below the state average of $60,000. Meanwhile, 52 percent of students in Mesa County School District 51 receive free or reduced-price lunches because of low family incomes.