State marketing chief to pitch branding at GJEP meeting

Aaron Kennedy

Phil Castle, The Business Times

An entrepreneur who founded a chain of restaurants and now serves as the state’s chief marketing officer is expected to discuss the role of branding in economic development during an upcoming event in Grand Junction.

Aaron Kennedy is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership annual meeting set to begin at noon Oct. 3 at Two Rivers Convention Center.

The topic is a timely one given efforts to develop and communicate a unified brand  for Mesa County, said Kelly Flenniken, executive director of GJEP.

A private, nonprofit group that promotes job creation through business attraction and expansion, GJEP hosts annual meetings to review accomplishments, preview plans and address issues related to economic development, Flenniken said. “It’s a good forum to do a good and fun educational piece.”

More than 400 people attended the GJEP annual meeting last year to hear Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper discuss a statewide economic development initiative.

Flenniken said she’s excited about the upcoming meeting given the story Kennedy will tell.

A former marketing director and brand manager who directed projects for such corporations as Kraft, Pepsi and Sears, Kennedy founded Noodles & Company and what became a chain of fast-food restaurants serving noodle and pasta dishes.

Since the first restaurant opened in Colorado in 1995, Noodles & Company has grown to more than 340 locations and in 2012 earned revenues of nearly $300 million. The company went public in June.

In 2012, Hickenlooper hired Kennedy as the state’s first chief marketing officer and asked him to develop a brand to attract businesses and entrepreneurs to Colorado. Following a year-long process, the state unveiled a logo featuring a green, snow-capped peak.

A new slogan reads “It’s our nature.”

Flenniken said branding constitutes an important part of economic development in differentiating a state — or a county — from other areas at a time when many businesses can operate nearly anywhere. “I think it’s very important for a community like ours.”

The development and promotion of a unified community brand is among three major goals for a new economic development plan for Mesa County.

GJEP has been involved in that effort in  promoting the quality of life offered in Mesa County and describing what it’s like to work, live and play here.

That message touts such attributes as the scenic landscape and abundant outdoor recreational opportunities  as well as the role of Mesa County as a regional educational, health care and shopping hub. That’s not to mention the combination of a small town atmosphere and urban amenities.

Earlier this year, GJEP joined with the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau in what Flenniken described as a “huge” branding opportunity  — advertising the area on a giant electronic billboard in Times Square in New York City.

Community branding remains a work in progress. But Flenniken said she hopes Kennedy’s presentation at the annual meeting will inspire additional efforts.

 Admission to the Grand Junction Economic Partnership annual luncheon meeting is $45 per person, $450 for a table for 10. For reservations or more information, call 245-4332 or send an e-mail to