New center, more research among energetic ideas

A new energy center and efforts to promote additional research into energy technologies were among the most popular ideas to come out of the latest in a series of economic development brainstorming sessions in Mesa County.

The establishment of a western center for energy independence in Grand Junction was the top choice among the ideas presented at a June 29 meeting held to discuss ways to create an energy research and development hub. Efforts to promote energy research and development at what soon will become Colorado Mesa University was the second choice.

A variety of other ideas also were suggested, among them the creation of a task force of energy industry leaders, an initiative to make the Grand Valley the most energy efficient area in the world and the elimination of government energy subsidies.

Chris Reddin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction, helped tabulate the results of the meeting. Reddin said many of the ideas reflect the need to develop a more coordinated effort to promote the development of not only of traditional, but also renewable, energy sources. “There’s huge awareness of things going on, but yet everything’s not connected.”

The creation of a hub for energy research and development is among three major goals to come out of a planning session in February that have been incorporated into an economic development plan for Mesa County. The county plan in turn has been integrated into regional and state economic development plans under a grass roots initiative by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Additional efforts to support the growth of existing businesses in Mesa County as well as the creation and promotion of a community brand also constitute major goals for economic development.

While the February session helped set broad goals for economic development in Mesa County, the June meeting was conducted to come up with specific ways in which to achieve the first of those goals.

Another session is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Aug. 3 at the College Center to discuss ways to support the growth of existing businesses. A third session is planned for September to discuss the creation of a community brand.

In addition to the planning sessions, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has been conducting online surveys to solicit comments on economic development goals.

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said the results of the survey on energy innovation and development align with the ideas presented at the June meeting.

Fully 49 percent of the survey respondents identified their top strategy as promoting the research and development of new technologies for existing energy. Another 40 percent said they favored additional research on energy technology at Colorado Mesa University.

At the same time, though, 41 percent also suggested addressing regulatory barriers to current natural gas and coal producers. And 32 percent cited oil shale development.

When asked about challenges to achieving the establishment of an energy research and development hub, survey respondents offered a variety of answers, Schwenke said, among them government regulation and lack of funding or research infrastructure.

Schwenke said efforts to promote energy research and development undoubtedly constitute a long-term project, but there’s impatience on the part of some to start the process. She said one survey comment summed up that sentiment in suggesting “less blab and more doing.”