Peak effort: Economic summit planned for Western Colorado

Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, hopes to not only inform participants attending an upcoming summit in Western Colorado, but also encourage their involvement in efforts to promote business recruitment and expansion. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, hopes to not only inform participants attending an upcoming summit in Western Colorado, but also encourage their involvement in efforts to promote business recruitment and expansion. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Kristi Pollard believes it will take an army to bring about economic changes in Western Colorado. That makes an upcoming summit an enlistment opportunity.

“I think we’re going to see some really good engagement by the business community,” says Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, among the organizations involved promoting business recruitment and expansion in the region.

While the Western Slope still faces challenges in rebounding from the recession, Pollard says she chooses to focus on what she considers a class half full with such opportunities as a new program offering tax incentives to businesses that create jobs, a growing number of companies interested in relocating or expanding operations in Mesa County and a more collaborative approach to economic development. “I really feel we’re starting to come out of this. I feel very encouraged.”

Pollard says she has equally high hopes for a Western Colorado economic summit scheduled for June 1 at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.

The day-long summit will include two keynote presentations and a dozen breakout sessions covering a variety of topics related to economic development. An awards presentation and networking reception also are planned.

In replacing what was an annual meeting for GJEP with the summit, Pollard says she expects to not only inform participants, but also encourage their involvement in development efforts.

With a more regional approach to the event, Pollard says she hopes to attract 300 participants to the first summit.

The summit is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with a kickoff keynote presentation by Frank Garay and Brian Stevens, hosts of the “National Real Estate Post,” a video blog that’s popular with the real estate and mortgage industries. Garay and Stevens plan to discuss change.

The first in a series of hour-long breakout sessions is set for 11 a.m. with presentations on upcoming ballot initiatives effecting businesses, commercial real estate trends in Western Colorado and innovation in higher education.

Fred Schmidt, president and chief operative officer of Coldwell Banker Commercial, will deliver the keynote luncheon address at noon.

Breakout sessions at 2 p.m. will offer presentations on the future of broadband communications in Western Colorado, inspiring innovation and national economy.

At 3 p.m., breakout sessions will offer looks at the changing landscape of health care, the future of the energy industry and the role of the work force in economic development.

The last three breakout sessions set to start at 4 p.m. will offer information about the state economic outlook, economic development tools and advice for starting and running businesses. Pollard says a variety of 15 speakers have been invited to present sessions or join in panel discussions.

The summit is set to conclude with a networking reception starting at 5 p.m.

The summit also will include the presentation of two GJEP awards. The Spirit of Economic Development Award will recognize a business or organization that demonstrates community awareness and involvement while seeking opportunities to enhance the Grand Valley economy. The Joseph Prinster Leadership Award will recognize an individual who’s made notable contributions to economic development in the Grand Valley. The award is named for the businessman who was involved in expanding the City Market chain of grocery stores and helped establish the organization that later became GJEP.

Award nominations are due May 6 and should be submitted by e-mail to terri@gjep.org.

The summit comes at a time when the region still faces challenges in recovering from the recession, but also opportunities, Pollard says.

Pollard says she’s especially encouraged by the Rural Jump-Start Program offering tax incentives to businesses that create jobs. Mesa County was the first in Colorado selected to join in the program, and three businesses have been approved to receive incentives. Four more businesses are going through the process to earn approval, Pollard says.

The Rural Jump-Start Program creates zones in which approved businesses are exempted from paying state and local taxes. To participate, the core functions of businesses may not compete with existing operations. Businesses must create a minimum of five net new jobs in the county in which they’re located. Qualifying businesses are exempt from paying state income, use and sales taxes as well as county and municipal personal property taxes. Their employees also are exempt from paying state income taxes.

Meanwhile, GJEP is working with 76 prospects that have expressed interest in relocating or expanding operations in Mesa County, Pollard says.

While the prospects are diverse, health care and outdoor equipment manufacturing are the most represented industry sectors, she says.

Pollard says she’s further encouraged by the increased support for economic development as well as the more collaborative efforts among the various local groups involved in not only recruiting new businesses, but also helping existing businesses and starting new ventures.

The Western Colorado Economic Summit is set for June 1 at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Admission is $100 for the full day of events, $45 for the luncheon. For reservations or  information, call 245-4332 or visit www.gjep.org.