Government officials discuss state of the valley

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A panel comprised of officials with Mesa County, the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita and the Town of Palisade discussed a range of issues during the latest State of the Valley presentation organized by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Local governments support businesses and a business-friendly environment in a variety of ways, officials say.

But challenges persist that affect businesses, including access to behavioral health services, rising housing costs and issues related to the homeless.

Representatives from Mesa County, the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita and the Town of Grand Junction discussed a range of topics during the latest State of the Valley presentation organized by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

The speakers included Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis, Mesa County Administrator Pete Baier; Grand Junction Mayor Abe Herman, Grand Junction Interim City Manager Andrea Phillips, Fruita Mayor Matthew Breman, Fruita City Manager Mike Bennet, Palisade Mayor Greg Mikolai and Palisade Town Manager Janet Hawkinson.

Asked to discuss how local governments support business, Breman cited a new building department and streamlined rules in Fruita designed to support development and promote more housing options.

Mikolai cited the introduction of fiber internet services in Palisade.

Herman said the construction of a new community recreation center in Grand Junction will help businesses recruit and retain employees.

Herman also said the City of Grand Junction allocates funding for such economic development partners as the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Business Incubator Center and also provides financial support for Colorado Mesa University.

Asked to discuss access to behavioral health services, Herman said the city allocated $500,000 from American Rescue Plan Act funds to help graduates of the Colorado Mesa University masters of social work program repay student loans. Rocky Mountain Health Plans matched that funding to support mental health services. Herman said he expected the effort to attract and retain more behavioral health providers in the Grand Valley.

As for rising housing costs, officials said a variety of efforts are under way to address that issue.

Bennet said a total of more than 1,200 single- and multi-family homes are in the works for Fruita. In addition, 50 town homes will be available as part of a workforce housing development. “Those are significant numbers.”

Herman said the City of Grand Junction is considering a number of efforts, including a down payment assistance program.

Hawkinson said she expects a new land use code under development in Palisade will help keep a variety of housing available.

Davis said lower fees and less red tape help, but the issue is complicated. “There are no perfection solutions. There are just tradeoffs.”

Breman said community involvement is essential in helping governments deal with housing affordability and other issues. “It’s critical to what we do.”

Dealing with the effects of homelessness in practical, but also compassionate, ways poses another challenge, the officials said. “There’s no easy way forward,” Davis said.

Mesa County has tried a proactive approach in connecting people with the services they need, Davis said.

Herman said he hopes a resource center in downtown Grand Junction will help as will additional options for interim housing.

Looking ahead to economic development priorities for the next two years, Davis said he was excited about progress on a 29 Road interchange with Interstate Highway 70. “I think that is just huge.”