West Slope summit to explore range of economic issues

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Nicole Allen
Cilia Kohn
Robin Brown

An upcoming event will explore a range of issues related to economic development even as participants also share their ideas for what Mesa County should look like in the near future.

The 2021 Western Colorado Economic Summit is set for Sept. 30 at the Grand Junction Convention Center. The summit is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a luncheon and keynote presentation from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Admission is $75 for individuals, $800 for sponsored tables that each seat 10.

The summit serves as both an annual meeting for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and fund-raiser for the economic development organization.

Robin Brown, executive director of GJEP, joined Cilia Kohn, director of marketing and communications, and Nicole Allen, fund-raising and events coordinator, for an interview to preview the event.

While the summit was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kohn said the event sold out in each of the two previous years. She said she expects up to 600 people to attend this year, making the summit one of the largest gatherings of its kind in the region. Allen said people are eager for the summit to return and attend in person.

Brown said plenary and breakout sessions will cover a variety of topics, among them commercial real estate, housing needs, marijuana policies, production agriculture and workforce development.

A panel discussion will explore what she said likely will be the “realistic” future of energy development in Colorado, one that will include coal, natural gas and oil as well as solar, wind and other renewable resources.

Although the lineup hasn’t yet been finalized, Kohn said summit speakers will include Colorado State Demographer Elizabeth Garner.

Brown said John Marshall, the new president of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, is scheduled to deliver the keynote luncheon address and discuss his vision for CMU and what changes could be in store there.

The summit also will introduce a process to envision what Mesa County should look like when the county is no longer deemed distressed.

Brown said an annual assessment takes into account such criteria as wages, income and the number of students in Mesa County School District 51 who receive free or reduced-price lunches because of low family incomes. Given a more diverse and improving economy along with rising wages, she said she expects Mesa County will no longer be considered distressed.

Kohn said a visioning process will help with planning. “How do we get there? What does that look like? How can GJEP help?”

GJEP also will present its annual update as well as two awards. The Joseph Prinster Leadership Award will recognize individual achievement in economic development. The Charter Communication Spirit of Economic Development Award will recognize a business or organization for community involvement. Nominations for the award will be accepted through Aug. 31 and should be emailed to Allen at invest@gjep.org.

Coldwell Banker Commercial Prime Properties and Coldwell Banker Distinctive Properties will serve as title sponsor of the summit for a fifth time. Additional sponsorships are available. For more information, contact Allen at 245-4332, extension 6, or invest@gjep.org.

To register for or obtain additional information about the Western Colorado Economic Summit, visit www.westcoeconomicsummit.com.