Great expectations

It’s only natural to want to start a new year with an optimistic outlook. What’s the alternative? Who wants to endure an ulcer-inducing 12 months of expecting the worst and sitting around and waiting for fears to materialize?

Nonetheless, Grand Valley business leaders seem particularly upbeat in their expectations for 2017 — to the point, in fact, of dropping the cautiously part from what they usually describe as their cautiously optimistic assessments. If business leaders are correct — and we certainly hope they are — then 2017 could finally be the year of significant turnround in the local economy for which we’ve all been waiting.

The six business leaders with which we talked to put together the cover story in this issue based their optimism on a multitude of factors, starting with what they say is a growing sense of confidence among local business owners and managers. That confidence has become more pronounced since the presidential election on expectations a Donald Trump administration will cut corporate tax rates, reform government regulations and foster a more welcoming environment for the energy sector.

The latest results of state and national surveys confirm this sentiment.
The Leeds Business Confidence Index based on a survey of business leaders in Colorado jumped more than seven points to 60.3 heading into the first quarter. The National Federation of Business reported that its Small Business Optimism Index climbed 7.4 points to 124.6, its highest reading since 2004. Nearly half that gain was attributed to a whopping 38-point jump in the proportion of NFIB members responding to a survey who said they expect the economy to improve.

The thing about more confident business owners and managers is that they’re more willing to take risks — to stop talking about expanding operations, buying new equipment and hiring employees and get on with actually following through with their plans.

Along with the expansion of existing businesses, there’s hope of recruiting new businesses to the area. Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, describes herself as nearly giddy at the prospect that years of hard work will pay off in 2017. The outdoor recreational opportunities and quality of life offered in the Grand Valley constitute attractions, Pollard and others say, especially for outdoor equipment manufacturers.

Meanwhile at the Business Incubator Center, there’s been an increase in demand for the services offered there to assist new and growing businesses, according to Jon Maraschin, the executive director. There’s been a lot of interest, Maraschin says, from entrepreneurs on the Front Range interested in kicking Grand Valley tires and starting or relocating ventures here.

Even as prospects for growth improve, so do local efforts to bring that about.

Pollard expects the Rural Jump-Start Program offering tax incentives for new businesses to continue to play an important role in economic development in 2017. The Business Incubator Center will launch a new initiative to accelerate the growth of new ventures in putting participants through a fast-track program that takes only six months. A number of initiatives also are under way at the Mesa County Work Force Center, including efforts to better quantify the local workforce and connect a pipeline from the labor pool to employers looking to fill positions.

There’s a danger, of course, of being unrealistically optimistic about what the future will bring — of digging into a pile of poop in a desperate search for the pony. But the more upbeat outlook for 2017 appears justified. Let’s hope it is.