GJEP director plans aggressive approach

Kristi Pollard
Kristi Pollard

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

The new administrator of an economic development organization in Mesa County expects to take a more aggressive approach in both recruiting new businesses and helping existing businesses.

“We have a lot of opportunity here in Western Colorado and in Mesa County in particular. My goal is to be more aggressive in working with outside businesses and existing businesses,” said Kristi Pollard, the executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Pollard succeeds Kelly Flenniken, who  left the position in April to become area manager of community and government affairs for Xcel Energy. Flenniken had worked for GJEP since 2008.

Pollard said she wants GJEP to become more proactive in marketing the region and actively pursuing business opportunities. “As we look at the target industries that GJEP has identified, I think there is opportunity for us to reach out to more businesses within those industries. Rather than just sending them a packet in the mail, Pollard  wants to take experts to meet with owners and managers and explain to them why they do business and live in Western Colorado. “We have a great wealth of knowledge in business leaders who invest in GJEP. I want to take that knowledge, utilize it and hopefully be more aggressive with new businesses so that we can get them to look at GJ to relocate.”

Pollard said that approach will not only apply to recruiting new business, but also to helping existing businesses expand. “Certainly we will be more aggressive with existing businesses as well,” she said. “My goal is to meet with business leaders and identify places where we have opportunity for expansion. If there are ways we can assist a company with expanding their office or their services here locally, certainly we want to do that.

“I think expansion is one of those areas where we have great opportunity,” she added. “These businesses have already chosen to be here, they know the benefits of operating in Western Colorado. And so what resources do they need to help grow their business? That is one of my goals.”

Pollard said one of the most potent tools GJEP now has at its disposal is the recently enacted Jumpstart Rural Colorado legislation, which identifies such economically distressed areas of the state as Mesa County and allows new businesses that don’t compete with an existing business in the state to partner with a local state college and establish themselves in the county while being exempted from most state and local taxes for a four- to eight-year period.

Pollard said she’s excited about the prospects for using the legislation. “We are putting together a strategic sub-committee that is going to be looking at different businesses across the nation that we think might be interested in Western Colorado because of this tax initiative.” Pollard said the committee will look at primary industry clusters identified by GJEP, including aviation, energy, information technology and professional services, health care and outdoor manufacturing. The committee also will look at the agriculture industry, including craft breweries and wineries. “Within those industries, what businesses are out there that we can go talk to directly, share this exciting new tool with them and say that we would love to have you in Western Colorado?”

Pollard also said she will look to the Front Range of Colorado for opportunities. “We will certainly be reaching out to some Front Range businesses, the Lockheed Martins, to see if they have opportunities in the works where Western Colorado might be an option for them given this new bill.”

As another component of the Jumpstart Rural Colorado initiative, Pollard said GJEP will reach out to intellectual property attorneys in the state to share with them what the legislation does. “They have companies that they are working with every day, patenting new, innovative technologies, so there may be opportunities for us to link to some of those companies.”

Another economic development tool Pollard said she’s monitoring is the foreign trade zone under consideration by the City of Grand Junction. Businesses in zones are allowed to import goods without paying a duty until those goods leave the zone and enter U.S. commerce. When merchandise is exported from the zones, no duties are assessed.

“International companies are a great opportunity for us, and we are working closely with the city as they evaluate whether or not it makes business sense for Mesa County to be a foreign trade zone,” Pollard said. “At first blush, we would love to have the tool in our tool chest. The FTZ coupled with a great tax environment, we think that those are two tools that will really work to our benefit in creating new businesses here.”

Pollard said she views GJEP as one member of a team working toward a common goal, which is to create jobs and economic vitality in Western Colorado. She plans to work with the other economic development entities, including the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Business Incubator Center, City of Grand Junction, Mesa County and other partners. “There are so many economic development partners, and each one brings unique skills and resources to the table. Our goal is to work more closely with them and identify projects that we can partner with them on. I’m optimistic that we will have really great working relationships.”

Pollard brings to her new role a background in economic development and expertise in recruiting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand. She served as vice president of the Southeast Business Partnership.

She also brings an added element that she said she believes will be helpful. “The other thing I think help makes me unique is my strong government relations background. The partners at the local, state and sometimes federal level are critical, and I have relationships at those levels and also know how the various processes work.”

Pollard served as a regional director for the U.S. Senate and was the principal for a government relations and fund-raising consulting firm. She also served as director of development and chief executive officer of the Colorado Mesa University Foundation.

Pollard said she’s also accustomed to working as part of a team. “I think that is critical for us to be able to move this community forward. I hope to bring that collaborative spirit to this job and open more doors in that respect.”

Tim Foster, president of CMU as well as the GJEP board of directors, said he’s pleased to have Pollard leading local economic development efforts. “Kristi’s unique skill sets and leadership abilities are what this community needs as we strive to increase the economic vitality of the area.”

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese agreed. “We are eager to work with Kristi and look forward to the successes GJEP is going to have.”

Pollard is optimistic about her new job and for the prospects for Western Colorado and Grand Junction.

“I think Grand Junction is ripe for new businesses, new jobs. I believe we will have to be more aggressive, have a more aggressive marketing effort. We can’t wait for folks to call us, we are going to have to call them.”