Tech sector coverage illustrates big picture

One of the benefits of reading a business journal — or editing one, for that matter — is the interrelatedness that becomes apparent. It’s clear one story is associated with another. Connect the proverbial dots and a bigger and more enlightening picture emerges.

This issue of the Business Times constitutes no exception with three stories related to the growing technology sector in the Grand Valley. To review:

The lead story reports on the efforts of Mara Hardy, the new business development manager at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. Her duties with the economic development organization focus on the tech sector in not only bring new firms to Mesa County, but also helping existing firms expand operations.

A second story reports the latest results of an annual comparison of the economic performance of small metropolitan areas. Mesa County jumped more than 50 spots in the Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index for 2019 on gains in high-tech output and jobs. Mesa County ranked 22nd among small metro areas for growth in gross domestic product in the high-tech sector from 2016 to 2017.

The third story reports on the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program enabling local students to simultaneously earn high school diplomas and community college degrees. Students will complete their education at Central High School while also earning an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, machining or welding at Western Colorado Community College. The program is seen as a way to help fill the workforce pipeline, particularly for so-called STEM jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

What these three stories confirm is the growing role of the tech sector in the Mesa County economy and, consequently, the growing importance of efforts to help companies in that sector.

Granted, tech doesn’t offer an economic silver bullet any more than any other single sector. It’s the collective effects of diverse sectors that keep an economy stable through the upturns and downturns of business cycles.

Nonetheless, tech offers some unique attributes. Many tech firms can be operated anywhere there are good internet connections. That gives a place like the Grand Valley that offers outdoor recreation and higher quality of life an advantage in attracting tech firms. Tech firms also tend to spin off ventures, creating more jobs. And those jobs usually pay higher wages.

So what do tech firms need to thrive in Mesa County?

Hardy has convened a coalition of business owners and those working in the sector to find out and also develop a plan to address problems and achieve goals. Hardy describes her role, in fact, as a “convener” and “connector.”

One of the things the tech sector — or any sector  — needs is a qualified workforce prepared to fill job openings. Some positions require college education, and Colorado Mesa University continues to broaden the scope of its programs to meet the needs of employers. Some positions require training offered at a community college like WCCC. Students completing the P-TECH program will have the option to earn a four-year college degree, but they’ll also be prepared to enter the workforce if they choose.

Another of the strengths of the Grand Valley is that whenever important connections are identified, collaboration follows close behind. Meanwhile, we’ll keep reporting on those efforts. Get the picture?