GRANBY - The room was full of local business owners, nonprofits and government officials who were eager to learn more about how to bring new businesses to the county and improve existing businesses.
"There are 40 to 50 people here," exclaimed keynote speaker Kari Linker, Regional Director of the Colorado Governor's Office of Economic Development and International Trade. "That doesn't happen that often around the state. Grand County is one of the counties that has its "Business Open" sign out. Exciting things get done when people come together."
A grassroots approach
The Grand County Economic Development Summit, held last Thursday at the SilverCreek Convention Center near Granby, was the final meeting of a three-part series of meetings sponsored by the Grand County Office of Economic Development. There, organizers unveiled a strategic plan for Grand County's near and distant future.
It offered county residents the opportunity to learn about all the grassroots efforts that are happening right now with emphasis on the regional and county levels. It also presented tools and resources available for current and future businesses to make the smart choices that will elevate business for everyone in the county.
Governor Hickenlooper's Bottom Up Economic Development Plan resulted in a statewide strategy, the Colorado Blueprint, which is being implemented in a variety of ways including the statewide Regional Economic Development Industry Sector Partnerships. Grand County is grouped with Eagle, Jackson, Pitkin and Summit Counties into the Rocky Mountain Resort Region (Region 12) under the Northwest Council of Governments. The counties of this region are similar in having economies largely fueled by world-class resorts and a rural character.
The strongest area for growth has been identified as regional collaboration among the top three key industries: Tourism and outdoor recreation, health and wellness and the creative industries.
What the Blueprint Sector Partnership hopes to do for "Region 12" is help it take regional partnerships to the next level by broadening collective efforts between education, workforce development, economic development and industry.
"This regional partnership will develop key industry networks to expand industry-based work throughout Colorado," explained DiAnn Butler, Grand County's economic development coordinator. "Region 12's goal is to become known as a hot spot for smaller, entrepreneurial businesses, (with) attractive places for businesses to relocate.
"Grand County Economic Development Office will deploy retention and growth strategies for the key industries of the county's economy," Butler continued. "It will be important to convene our key industry business stakeholders at the regional table with a strong voice."
Business data at fingertips
One of the business tools unveiled at the Summit was developed by the governor's economic development office. The website AdvantageColorado.com provides pertinent data to prospective business owners who have interest in relocating. What kind of skilled labor lives here? What do homes cost? How fast and reliable is the broadband service? What kind of airports, interstate highways and railroads are accessible? What are the operating costs for businesses here?
According to Butler, the county's economic development website - grandforbusiness.com - is developing a similar data program tailored to the size of businesses the county is interested in attracting. This data makes it easier for a new business to get loans or assess a new location for a business where a business can expand and flourish.
Collaboration is key
The Grand County Economic Development Office demonstrated the true meaning of community collaboration when its "Collectively Grand" project developed a new website by contracting with four Grand County professionals. Firebird Design's Tina Wilson and Lisa Bornfriend developed the website with project manager Mike Loomis, who did most of the copywriting. O2 Creative of Fraser contributed logos and marketing ideas and several businesses donated photos.
The website contains business statistics about the county, business resources, a local product guide and a business-related activity calendar listing meetings and workshops as well as links to all the towns, chambers and economic development sites.
Butler reiterated the importance of countywide cooperation. "Your competitors can be your allies," she said. "Think job-sharing, customer-service training, bulk rates from suppliers."
The participants at the Summit divided up into smaller groups, giving participants a chance to meet with business specialists and ask questions. One valuable resource available to emerging and existing businesses in the county is the Grand Enterprise Initiative, a program that works closely with the department of economic development.
The program started in Granby but has expanded to offer its free services to the entire county with trained Enterprise Facilitator Patrick Brower (email@example.com), who in a little more than a year has consulted with 66 clients.
Brower emphasized the best situation is to be doing the work that one loves, and with the "trinity of management" - a good product, good marketing and sales, and sound financial management - this is possible, even in a remote, rural mountain community.
Other specialists that led the roundtable discussions included Martin Woros, the Grand County information systems director, who shared updated information about broadband regional efforts. Also, representatives from the Northwest Business Development Center presented information about business workshops and a next-level entrepreneur program. And representatives from the Colorado Workforce Center of Granby also shared resources available to businesses.