Tech and rec: Grand Valley offers natural attraction

Technology consultant Erica Witherspoon relocated to the Grand Valley after working for Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo in the Seattle area. Witherspoon says she was drawn to the area by its ample recreational opportunities. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Technology consultant Erica Witherspoon relocated to the Grand Valley after working for Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo in the Seattle area. Witherspoon says she was drawn to the area by its ample recreational opportunities. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

 Erica Witherspoon took her time searching for a place in which to relocate. After working for such corporate giants as Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo in the Seattle area, she says she was ready for a change of pace as well as scenery.

A lengthy road trip took Witherspoon through Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado and finally to the Grand Valley.
She says she found exactly what she was looking for in an area with ample sunshine; laid-back lifestyle; and the outdoor recreational activities she enjoys, among them biking, hiking and skiing.

Her discovery technology companies, albeit smaller ones, operate in the Grand Valley and there was an opportunity to employ her skills was like so much vocational icing atop her avocational cake. “To me, this area just offered all that.”

Witherspoon believes her experience sets an example of what could serve as a powerful combination in promoting economic development: the allure of outdoor recreation in attracting individuals and businesses in the technology sector. “I see a lot of opportunities for technology in this area.”

Her story is featured, in fact, in a video prepared for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership as part of its efforts to recruit entrepreneurs and firms to what’s envisioned as what could become something of a grand silicon valley.

Page Tucker — president and chief executive officer of ProStar Geocorp., a Grand Junction firm that’s created Transparent Earth software combining geographic information systems and data to manage buried pipelines, utilities and other infrastructure — is also featured in the video. He’s an equally passionate proponent of the potential for tech and rec. “We can start putting Grand Junction on the map.”

That effort could prove most successful, he believes, in keeping tech companies in Colorado — but luring them from the Front Range to the Grand Valley. “You don’t have to reach too far.”

Meanwhile, Tucker expects to work with Witherspoon on efforts to develop additional markets for ProStar products beyond the energy and utility sectors. That includes a pilot project to map Grand Junction below and above ground and create three-dimensional imagery that can be used for management and predictive modeling.

Witherspoon operates a technology consulting firm called Omnifica. While she’s the only employee, she enlists the services of designers, engineers and marketers as the need arises.

Along with her work with ProStar, Witherspoon helped identify a new market for Mozaic Technology, a website development and marketing firm based in Grand Junction. She’s also worked on website design and development for Keystone Acres Firewise Community and efforts to prevent fires in a high-risk residential area of Washington. In addition, she’s helped launch Heart and Soul Academy, a nonprofit helping those with such body focused repetitive behaviors as hair pulling, nail biting and skin picking.

Witherspoon brings to her venture experience as a manager and trainer with Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo. She says was involved in new product releases as well as technical training. While she says she was hired for one role, she quickly assumed additional responsibilities and took on new roles. “There was never a job role I ever applied for.”

In the process, Witherspoon says she’s developed skills in developing new markets for products, streamlining business functions and conveying information about technical subjects in a non-technical way.

Witherspoon holds a degree in management information systems from Western Washington University, where she also worked in technical support and training and completed an internship as a network administrator.

Although she enjoyed working for large technology companies in the Seattle area, Witherspoon says decided late in 2015 she needed a change and spent nearly a year looking for a smaller community to which to relocate.

She settled on the Grand Valley earlier this year in large part because of the variety of recreational activities the area affords — biking, golfing hiking, paddle boarding and skiing. “It was a huge percentage.”

While Witherspoon had previously worked in Colorado for technology firms in the Boulder area and Durango, she says the Grand Valley constituted what for her was a pleasant surprise. She says she was even more surprised when she discovered the Grand Valley also is home to tech companies.

With a comparatively low cost of living, such amenities as the Factory co-working space in Grand Junction and a culture of collaboration, Witherspoon says she sees a lot of potential for additional growth in the tech sector. One of the challenges of recruiting entrepreneurs and businesses will be “getting the word out.”

As another advocate for growing a tech hub in the Grand Valley, Tucker says he’s optimistic about that prospect, particularly for firms serving such niche markets as geospatial intelligence.

He believes a proof of concept project with the City of Grand Junction using Transparent Earth to map and manage infrastructure below and above ground will help. “I find that the City of Grand Junction is very sophisticated and forward thinking when it comes to being an early adopter of new technologies as well as a welcoming supporter of our local businesses.”

Witherspoon says the opportunity to work in tech and play in rec would have brought her to Grand Junction earlier had she known there was a place that offered that combination. “Absolutely,” she says. “I would have moved here before that.”

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