Officials hail economic development collaboration plan

Jon Maraschin
Jon Maraschin

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Officials from three organizations hail an agreement they say puts in writing their roles and responsibilities for economic development in Mesa County.

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce said the memorandum of understanding puts the chamber, Grand Junction Economic Partnership and Business Incubator Center into same figurative boat — and more. “We’re all rowing in the same direction,” she said.

Kristi Pollard, executive director of  GJEP, said, “We’re very thrilled to be a part of this collaboration.”

Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center, said the center promotes the creation of new businesses, but also offers a variety of resources to existing ventures. “We’re here to help,” he said.

Kristi Pollard
Kristi Pollard

Schwenke, Pollard and Maraschin joined in a news conference announcing a more coordinated approach to economic development, among the recommendations to come out of a competitive location assessment and branding research conducted  for the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County.

Under the terms of the memorandum, GJEP will continue to lead efforts to bring businesses to Mesa County. The chamber will continue to manage business retention and expansion efforts. The Business Incubator Center will continue to lead business creation efforts while providing resources to new and existing businesses. GJEP, the chamber and center also will provide various support services to the other organizations.

The City of Grand Junction and Mesa County as well as Colorado Mesa University,  the Downtown Development Authority, Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission, Mesa County Workforce Center, Outdoor Recreation Coalition and Western Colorado Community College also play roles and offer various resources and services under the plan.

Pollard said Mesa County already has enjoyed some success in economic development thanks to the Rural Jump-Start Program offering tax incentives to businesses that create jobs. Mesa County was the first county in Colorado approved to join the program. Three businesses have been approved to receive incentives. Five more businesses are going through the process and should be approved over the next two months, Pollard said.

Schwenke said the chamber has enjoyed some success of its own after hiring a new staff member who meets with representatives from individual businesses and industry sectors to identify and address issues they face and assist them with retention and expansion.

The chamber also joined with the Mesa County Workforce Center and Hilltop Community Resources in launching a workforce development program providing paid internships to young adults. The chamber also offers the Young Entrepreneurship Academy, a program that takes middle and high school students through the process of launching a business or social movement.

The chamber remains an advocate for local businesses in lobbying for and against various measures in the Colorado Legislature and in joining in legal action to stop the Grand Valley Drainage District from imposing a fee. “We’re doing a lot to stand up for business,” Schwenke said.

The Business Incubator Center offers a range of programs and services to help startups and existing operations, Maraschin said. In addition to an incubation program offering low-cost space and shared services, the center offers a Makerspace for product development, commercial kitchen  and  access to capital through a revolving loan fund. A Small Business Development Center offers free and low-cost counseling and classes.

Those programs and services constitute tools that promote economic development, he said.