New directors, now directions: Managers bring fresh perspectives to workforce center and DDA

As the new director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, John Flanagan oversees what he describes as a holistic approach to assist people looking for jobs as well as businesses looking for employees. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
As the new director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, John Flanagan oversees what he describes as a holistic approach to assist people looking for jobs as well as businesses looking for employees. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Having worked closely with manufacturers in Northwest Pennsylvania in his previous job, John Flanagan hopes to do the same in Western Colorado in his new job as director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Flanagan knows from personal experience the opportunities manufacturers offer for high-paying careers as well as the stabilizing effects they exert on a local economy. Flanagan also knows, though, that employers in all industry sectors rely on a skilled work force. So he’ll remain involved in work force development as well.

The Mesa County Workforce Center has a well-deserved reputation for its holistic approach in serving businesses looking for employees as well as people looking for jobs, Flanagan says.”It’s a fantastic thing for me to walk into.”

Flanagan succeeds Sue Tuffin, who retired last year after running the center since it opened in 1998.

Tracey Garchar, executive director of the Mesa County Department of Human Services, says he’s pleased to welcome Flanagan to the team that runs the workforce center. “John has more than a decade of nonprofit management and work force development experience,” Garchar says.

Before assuming his new duties in Grand Junction, Flanagan worked for more than three years as chief operating officer of Title I and work force programs for Northwest Pennsylvania CareerLink.

Northwest Pennsylvania CareerLink serves a six-county region with a combined work force of more than 400,000, Flanagan says.

Flanagan says he coordinated adult and youth employment programs as well as employer services and also was involved in collaborative efforts with local chambers of commerce and economic development groups.

In addition, he says he worked to develop industry recognized certifications for job candidates, create career pathways  with multiple entry points and offer a career exploration program for students in sixth to eighth grades.

Before joining the CareerLink, Flanagan served as executive director of the International Institute of Erie, which offers resettlement services for refugees, and as senior project manager for Allegheny County in managing various projects and services for senior citizens.

Flanagan holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Gannon University in Erie, Pa.

Flanagan says his work with the CareerLink involved a lot of manufacturers, which account for more than a third of the work force in Northwest Pennsylvania. He says he hopes to continue working with manufacturers in Western Colorado to grow that industry sector here.

Manufacturers offer what are usually more stable jobs and careers that are less cyclical, particularly compared to the ups and downs of the energy industry, he says.

Flanagan similarly hopes to replicate in the Grand Valley some of the initiatives with which he was involved in Pennsylvania, including efforts to work with local educators in public schools, community colleges and universities to develop career paths as well as expose students to various career options — including science, technology, engineering and mathematics  — before they enter high school.

The Mesa County Workforce Center has two sets of customers, though, he says, in employers looking for skilled job applicants and people looking for good jobs. The center can help in not only making the right matches, but also developing the work force through various training programs.

Manufactures depend on a skilled labor force, as do employers in other sectors, Flanagan says. “You only make a good product with a good work force.”

While the labor market in Mesa County continues to lag behind other areas of Colorado and the United States in fully recovering from the recession, Flanagan says he believes the prospects still appear bright. “I think this area has nothing but growth in its future. I’m excited to be here.”

John Schneiger
John Schneiger

Phil Castle, The Business Times

As much as John Schneiger appreciates planning, he enjoys even more implementing those plans.

And there are lot of opportunities for implementing plans in downtown Grand Junction, Schneiger says, from redeveloping the R-5 High School and White Hall sites to creating additional housing to ultimately promoting growth.

“I want to focus on implementation, trying to grow downtown and take it to the next level,” says Schneiger, the new director of the Downtown Development Authority.

Schneiger brings to his duties experience with that process as a city manager in Fruita and Montrose and later in Florida. He’s been involved in efforts that turned schools into a civic center in Fruita and library and office building in Montose as well as setting priorities for revelopment projects in New Port Richey, a city of about 19,000 north of Tampa.

Schneiger also brings to his duties a familiarity of and affection for the Grand Valley. “I’ve always felt the people here are very personable and outgoing. I don’t think that’s changed. It’s a friendly, family oriented community.”

Schneiger returned to the Grand Valley to succeed Harry Weiss, who served as director of both the DDA and Downtown Grand Junction Business Improvement District. Weiss resigned earlier this year to take a job as vice president of urban revitalization and development with One Acadiana, a regional economic development organization in Louisiana.

Robin Brown and Allison Blevins subsequently were hired as co-directors of the Business Improvement District, an arrangement Schneiger says enables him to focus on the DDA.

The Business Improvement District imposes an assessment on commercial property within the district to fund advertising, special events and other promotions. The DDA uses what’s called tax increment financing to fund capital improvement projects, economic development and other efforts that promote the downtown area. The same board oversees both the district and DDA.

Schneiger says it’s his role to promote an economically healthy and vital downtown through various projects and other efforts.

Among the first projects Schneiger expects to work will be redevelopment of the building housing R-5 High School and surrounding property the DDA recently purchased as well as the former White Hall site.

A facility assessment and economic development study could be needed to explore the best uses for the R-5 building and what’s a city block of property surrounding the building. “This is such a tremendous opportunity.”

Schneiger says he expects the building itself will remain, but will be renovated and used for another purpose.

There’s also potential for various types of projects at the White Hall site, he says

Meanwhile, Scheniger says he also hopes to see progress on efforts to develop more housing downtown, most likely in mixed-use projects that combine commercial or office space on a ground floor with housing above. More people living downtown contributes to the vitality of the business district there, he says. Moreover, a study the DDA conducted found there’s demand for additional housing downtown

The DDA likely will be involved in still other projects in the downtown area, including Las Colonias Park and additional development along the Colorado River and, potentially, a new events center.

It’s a question, Schneiger says, of determining the priority of the various projects and funding them. Schneiger says he hopes to obtain grants to help pay for projects and programs, something he says he was successful at accomplishing while working in Fruita.

It’s also a matter of building in what downtown Grand Junction already offers, he adds. “This downtown is really something special and unique. I think people already think the downtown is something special here and they want it to be even more special and vital.”

And that’s why Schneiger says he’s looking forward to the opportunity to implement plans.