The Mesa County Economic Development Plan

Diane Schwenke
Diane Schwenke, GJ Chamber

It was just over a year ago when many organizations in the community, including the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce came together to begin formulating a county economic development plan.  From the very beginning, a major tenant of the process was that this was to be a community driven process, not one dictated by “the professionals.”

    Many readers of the Business Times likely attended one of the four meetings with over 350 other attendees and/or completed one of the four online surveys that garnered close to 1,000 responses.  With your input a plan was born, one that is serving as an umbrella instrument to guide various community economic development groups to work collaborative and individually to see results.  Our timing could not be better…we still have 9.6% unemployment and while there are indications of economic life after the recession our economy is far from strong.

 There were three major goals established in the plan:

  • Become an Epicenter for Energy Innovation and Business Development   
  • Support the Growth of Existing Businesses
  • Elevate the Community Profile and
  • Develop a Unified Community Message

            Each goal has a set of strategies and tactics that were crafted from the community process and if we can work collaboratively, creatively, consistently and successfully on all three of these goals there will be an uptick in economic prosperity and job creation.  That is something we can be assured of.

            ED Partners, consisting of representation from the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County, Colorado Mesa University, GJEP, the Business Incubator, the DDA and the Chamber has already made progress in areas related to supporting existing business growth.

            Specifically, in accordance with the plan, the local economic development community has renewed its commitment to regularly reaching out to the business community, via a “listening to business” approach of soliciting their input on the opportunities and challenges for growth.  The software to track those interviews and meetings is housed at GJEP but all of the economic development professionals can access the information, something that avoids duplication and allows us to call in each others’ expertise in cases needing problem solving.

            Additionally a “First Responders” team has been assembled to assist existing and new businesses with retention and expansion issues.  The way the First Responders effort works is that one of ED Partners is a first point of contact for a business needing assistance.  That partner typically acts as the “lead” on the project and calls in other partners to assemble resources and brainstorm the most effective ways to leverage community resources to assist the business.  Members of the First Responders Team will typically change based on the nature and location of the project. 

            The advantages of this system are that the business does not have to “shop” a project but only needs to contact one individual in the community to access all of its economic development resources.  And, they choose who they are most comfortable working with rather than our organizations dictating who they must go to.  It also allows the local economic development community to respond more quickly and efficiently to the needs of a business’s project.

            One additional tactic to assist existing business growth has been the hosting of quarterly “New Way of Doing Business” sessions.  These sessions “put a face” on the economic development professionals in the community, briefly describe resources and offer panels with timely information on financing, workforce and other common issues.  There is then time allotted for individual consultations and follow up so businesses can directly access the individual and agency they need to move their particular project forward.

A quick update on the other two goals;

  • CMU has taken a first step toward the goal of Energy Epicenter utilizing Federal Mineral Lease dollars and plans are underway to form a community task force to begin brainstorming what initiatives and specific strategies should be pursued.
  • The City of Grand Junction and GJEP are continuing to develop strategies around our third and final goal of how we consistently present ourselves to those outside the Grand Valley.

            The Chamber Board used the three goals of the Mesa County Economic Development Plan as the starting point of developing the 2012 business plan and the Chamber has several individual strategies to assist with moving the plan forward in addition to working fully with the ED Partners group.  

            Those who took the time last year to work on this plan can be assured that it is not one of those “dust gatherers” but rather a dynamic document that is guiding positive change for the community.