Phil Castle The Business Times
Diane Schwenke welcomes the inquiries she fields at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. But if Schwenke doesn’t have an immediate answer to a question or the chamber a needed service to offer, she knows who to call.
“I’ll give you the number, and chances are I’ll dial it for you,” says Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
When it comes to helping entrepreneurs start and operate small businesses, the effort is very much a collaborate one in the Grand Valley, says Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. “You’ll find out pretty quickly we partner.”
Schwenke and Maraschin joined other local business leaders at an event at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction to offer an overview of the variety of resources available to businesses. What was billed as a small business development resource summit also featured Kelly Flenniken, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership; Morgan Bridge, head of the business department at CMU; and Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.
Local agencies, groups and institutions offer different services to businesses and focus on different missions. But they also work together in helping to start or attract new ventures as well as assist existing ventures either to expand operations or, in come cases, overcome challenges.
Schwenke says the chamber mission long has been an encompassing one in promoting the economy and supporting business.
Chamber services can be customized to meet individual business needs and include a variety of educational and networking events. Free online courses and tutorials are offered through what’s dubbed the chamber university and are available to businesses whether they’re members or not, Schwenke says.
The chamber recently joined with CMU and Western Colorado Community College to offer assistance to employers in providing additional education and training to their employers. The chamber also offers business training to middle and high school students through its Young Entrepreneurs Academy, Schwenke adds.
One of the most important roles of all for the chamber is advocacy on behalf of businesses at the local, state and federal levels, she says.
The chamber also has launched a pilot program offering high school students the chance to complete testing that certifies their job skills even as they explore various career options, Schwenke says.
“It really runs the gamut,” she says of the various resources the chamber offers the business community.
Maraschin says the Business Incubator Center brings a variety of programs and services under one roof.
The incubator program offers low-cost space, shared services and coaching to small business tenants. The program boosts an 82 percent success rate, Maraschin says, meaning 82 percent of the firms completing the program remain in business or have been sold.
A commercial kitchen space also is available, as is a new innovation center with access to equipment for three-dimensional design and printing, he says.
The Small Business Development Center offers a range of free and low-cost services that include classes, counseling and technical assistance.
A revolving loan fund offers financing to small businesses that might not qualify for traditional loans and also helps those businesses leverage additional financing.
In addition, the center administers the Mesa County Enterprise Zone, a program offering Colorado tax incentives to promote economic development and job growth.
Despite the breadth of services already offered there, the staff at the center constantly considers additional efforts, Maraschin says. “We’re always looking for more ways to help small business.”
Flenniken says the mission for GJEP continues three decades after local businesses founded the group in the aftermath of the oil shale bust in Western Colorado. That mission is promote a stronger and more diverse economy by attracting new businesses and jobs to the area while also helping existing businesses thrive, she says. “We do both of those things.”
In recruiting businesses to open operations in Mesa County, GJEP has targeted five industry sectors that constitute a particularly good fit, Flenniken says: aviation and aerospace, energy development, health care, information technology and outdoor recreation.
But the group will work with businesses in any sector, she adds. “We’ll help any type of business.”
GJEP offers assistance with research and site selection and also works with local and state groups and government agencies to offer incentives to businesses opening or expanding operations, Flenniken says.
Mesa County offers a number of advantages, she says, among them a comparatively lower cost of doing business as well as lifestyle that offers ready access to a range of outdoor activities.
Bridge says Colorado Mesa University helps the local business community in many ways, foremost in providing a variety of degree programs that prepare students for the workforce following graduation. An entrepreneurship concentration helps students interesting in pursuing their own ventures and working for themselves. Several student-run businesses on campus offer additional experience to would-be entrepreneurs, she adds.
In addition, CMU helps businesses directly through consulting services, Bridge says. Businesses receive needed assistance while students gain real-world experience in the process. Businesses interested in participating in consulting projects need only contact her or Tim Hatten, another business professor at CMU, for information, Bridge says.
Miller says the Mesa County Workforce Center also offers a range of services to business, including posting job openings on a statewide data base, organizing customized hiring events and screening applicants.
Assistance also is available in training employees, including reimbursement for a portion of wages paid for on-the-job training, Miller says. A variety of computer classes are offered as well.
In the event a business must lay off employees, assistance is available to help those employees through the processes of obtaining unemployment benefits and searching for new jobs, she says.
Like other local agencies, groups and institutions, the Mesa County Workforce Center joins in what Miller describes as a “culture of collaboration” in helping businesses in the Grand Valley.
Schwenke says those groups work on their own in offering resources to businesses and entrepreneurs, but also work together. “We partner.”
Here, at a glance, is the contact information for some of the local agencies, groups and institutions that offer resources to businesses and entrepreneurs:
Business Incubator Center — 243-5242 or www.gjincubator.org.
Colorado Mesa University Department of Business — 248-1778 or www.coloradomesa.edu/business.
Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce — 242-3214 or www.gjchamber.org.
Grand Junction Economic Partnership — 245-4332 or www.gjep.org.
Mesa County Workforce Center — 248-7560 or www.workforcecenter.mesacounty.us.