Erica Witherspoon personifies what could become an important trend for economic development in the Grand Valley: tech-savvy entrepreneurs who want to live in a place where they also can pursue their passions for outdoor recreation.
Witherspoon — a technology consultant who worked for Amazon, Microsoft and Nintendo in the Seattle area — settled in the Grand Valley earlier this year at the conclusion of a lengthy search for just such a place.
So what percentage of her decision was driven by the nearby accessibility of such activities as biking, hiking and skiing? “It was a huge percentage,” Witherspoon said in an interview with the Business Times for the cover story that appears in this issue.
Witherspoon also offers her testimonial in a video produced for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership to recruit tech entrepreneurs and firms to what’s envisioned could become something of a grand silicon valley.
Page Tucker — president and chief executive officer of ProStar Geocorp, a tech company already operating in Grand Junction — is equally enthusiastic about the potential for what he terms tech and rec in growing the industry sector here.
There’s low-hanging fruit to be picked, Tucker believes, in technology firms located along the Front Range run by entrepreneurs who could be lured to the Grand Valley by the prospect of not only escaping all that traffic, but also getting to the mountain biking trail in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
Thanks to the Internet, many tech firms can operate nearly anywhere in the world their owners want, so lifestyle becomes a more important criteria in determining their location. Add that to other advantages the Grand Valley offers in a comparatively lower cost of living, a growing university with its pipeline of new graduates and such supportive institutions as the Business Incubator Center and Factory co-working space.
At the same time, it makes sense that companies involved in manufacturing equipment for outdoor recreation also would want to set up shop in a place that offers ample recreational opportunities.
Many successful operations already do, among them Bonsai Design, Leitner Poma and Mountain Racing Products. Moreover, Bonsai Design recently entered into negotiations with the City of Grand Junction over incentives to make the company the anchor tenant of a new business park that also could accommodate other outdoor manufacturers.
As it turns out, there’s increasing interest from the tech and outdoor manufacturing sectors among the active prospects with which the Grand Junction Economic Partnership works in bringing companies and jobs to Mesa County.
As GJEP and other local organizations and government entities set priorities and refine recruiting strategies for economic development, there’s clearly an opportunity to promote tech and rec as a powerful and differentiating combination.
In large part, it’s a matter of getting the word out.
While Witherspoon had previously lived elsewhere in Colorado, she said she was surprised by what she discovered in the Grand Valley. And what would have happened had she known then what she knows now? “I would have moved here before that.”