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How Grand Junction is becoming a hub for innovation – an interview with Curtis Englehart! KLP #44

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00:00:00 Curtis Englehart
But we’re not just helping, you know, every business come into our area. We want to make sure it makes the most sense for that business as well As for Mesa County in general. That way it really is a win win. And so two things we really focus on, one is diversifying the economy in Mesa County. We do not want to put all of our eggs and one industry basket, so to speak. We want to be able to spread that out across the multiple industries. That way we’re much more resilient.

00:00:28 Curtis Englehart
When it when there’s harder times, you know, whether there’s a recession or higher unemployment rates or less jobs, whatever that may be, we want to make sure we are a very resilient economy. And then two, we really want to focus on what we call primary jobs. So a primary job is anything that pays over the median annual earnings in Mesa County, which right now is a little over $50,000 annually. So that is really what we’re trying to bring into the area is more primary jobs and continuing to diversify the economy.

00:00:57 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn, and I’m excited to have you join me as I interview community members and business leaders from the communities in which I live, work and serve through my business Kooler Garage Doors. We’re going to bring you highlights on characters in our communities. Why?

00:01:15 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Because community matters and I want to know more about who is behind our business and leadership in order to understand and support the community fabric that our relationships make up. And collectively, we can build stronger communities that support our lifestyles, our youth and our health.

00:01:39 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. I’m your host, Matt Kuehlhorn. Today, I’m sitting down with Curtis Englehart, who is the Executive Director for the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. GJEP for short. Curtis, thanks so much for your time. I appreciate you being here.

00:01:55 Curtis Englehart
Yeah. Thank you, Matt. Happy to be here.

00:01:57 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, And you’re beaming in from downtown Grand Junction, Yeah.

00:02:00 Curtis Englehart
Yep, that’s correct. We’re in our office here downtown. Love this location and so, yeah.

00:02:06 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, right on.

00:02:08 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I’m excited to speak to you. I love economic development in general, and I know you’re going to be able to get a lot more granule before we get into this component. I want to start back at the very beginning. Where did Curtis grow up?

00:02:24 Curtis Englehart
Yeah. So I’m a Western Slope guy, born and raised. I was born in Grand Junction, but actually grew up in Delta, so about 45 minutes South of Grand Junction and and.

00:02:36 Curtis Englehart
So small town guy, grew up in Delta, graduated high school there and then played college baseball. So I went to Trinidad State Junior College, played two years down there and then transferred up to what was then Mason State College, now Colorado Mason University, Finished up my baseball career and got my degree and then really have been here, you know, in the in the Valley since 2006. So yeah, I love it here, have deep roots here and definitely.

00:03:05 Curtis Englehart
I wanna see Mesa County continue to be a place of opportunity and so I feel like this job here really allows me to directly impact that.

00:03:13 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. Were you studying economics in school?

00:03:17 Curtis Englehart
I was not. I was actually a sports management major, but it had, it was on the business side, so a lot of business classes which were helpful.

00:03:28 Curtis Englehart
But yeah, I I definitely am not a a sports agent by any means, but I’m was glad to get a degree through CMU.

00:03:36 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love it. So what was the the concise story of playing ball in college, moving into your now role of executive director? How’d that play out?

00:03:49 Curtis Englehart
Yeah, so you know, baseball, if you would have asked me, you know.

00:03:54 Curtis Englehart
During college, what my greatest weakness was, it would have been I could have had a curveball and you know, it’s since then, obviously. You know, being able to take those skills I’ve learned in baseball more from a a leadership and adversity standpoint and apply them to the real world and and the workforce has really been crucial for me. I was fortunate enough to be a team captain both in at the junior college level and then also at Mesa State.

00:04:24 Curtis Englehart
And so being able to get leadership skills at a younger age has just been very beneficial for me. And as I’ve worked my way up through my career, I’ve been given the opportunity to lead at multiple levels. And that’s something that I am extremely passionate about, is leading strong, effective teams, creating a culture where where people want to be here.

00:04:50 Curtis Englehart
Where they get to come to work, Not where they have to come to work. And all of that really started because of of my experience playing baseball.

00:04:58 Luke
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00:05:33 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. How long have you been in the executive director so?

00:05:44 Curtis Englehart
I have been the Executive Director here at GJEP only since August of.

00:05:47 Matthew Kuehlhorn

00:05:49 Curtis Englehart
But prior to that, I was at the Mesa County Workforce Center for 9 1/2 years.

00:05:54 Curtis Englehart
And I was the director there for five and a half and that really allowed for, I wouldn’t necessarily say a seamless transition, but a much smaller learning curve for me coming into the economic development world because workforce development and economic development do go hand in hand. And then being able to establish those relationships with community leaders, state leaders, federal relationships, that was really being developed.

00:06:23 Curtis Englehart
Through my time at the Workforce Center and has really benefited me well coming into this GJP role.

00:06:29 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love it. So let’s get into, There’s a couple of things I made a note. When you’re when you’re talking about culture, that’s a that’s a big topic that we might circle back into the end. You know as a business coming into Grand Junction, I’ve interacted with GJP a little bit. I feel like maybe I’ve just scratched the surface of a huge iceberg, so.

00:06:51 Matthew Kuehlhorn
How do you explain GJP? What’s the mission? What are we doing?

00:06:56 Curtis Englehart
Yeah, great question. So GJP is all about economic development through the lens of helping businesses relocate to our area and also helping businesses expand. And part of that too, there’s a retention piece in there to where we want businesses to stay here and thrive here and grow here.

00:07:16 Curtis Englehart
And so we do that through a variety of different tools. We partner with the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, oh, Edit is their acronym. And we do that because they offer a lot of state incentives that are very lucrative to businesses who are looking at relocating or expanding. But we’re not just helping, you know, every business come into our area. We want to make sure it makes the most sense for that business as well As for Mesa County in general.

00:07:44 Curtis Englehart
That way it it really is a winwin. And so two things we really focus on, one is diversifying the economy in Mesa County. We do not want to put all of our eggs in one industry basket, so to speak. We want to be able to spread that out across multiple industries. That way we’re much more resilient when it when there’s harder times, you know, whether there’s a recession or higher unemployment rates or less jobs, whatever that may be, we want to make sure we are a very resilient economy.

00:08:12 Curtis Englehart
And then two, we really want to focus on what we call primary jobs. So a primary job is anything that pays over the median annual earnings in Mesa County, which right now is a little over $50,000 annually. So that is really what we’re trying to bring into the area is more primary jobs and continuing to diversify the economy.

00:08:32 Matthew Kuehlhorn
The history of economics in Mesa, as I understand it, a lot of it was rooted in the.

00:08:40 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I guess it’s just the gas, the mining extraction industries. And is that an example of, you know, having a majority of eggs in one basket where as that declines like there were a number of years that that had some big impact? Yeah.

00:08:57 Curtis Englehart
Absolutely, Yeah. And I mean we we love our energy jobs. They are good jobs, are high paying jobs. Yeah. But if you look back at 2008 when Mesa County.

00:09:08 Curtis Englehart
Fell into that the Great Recession. We lost 14,000 people in our labor force through about 2008 up to about 2015. And majority of that is because we had we we were so heavy in the energy industry, the bottom fell out of that industry and with it went, you know a huge amount of our labor force and then it took us a really long time to crawl out of that recession.

00:09:35 Curtis Englehart
But since then, the lesson learned is diversifying that economy. We still haven’t gained back all of our our labor force from the Great Recession, but man, we made some serious strides in in impacting that. And if you look at our economy now, we have a very diverse, I would say booming economy here locally. We have a healthy workforce. We have great primary jobs. We have low unemployment rates.

00:10:05 Curtis Englehart
But the oil and gas industry never did come back to where it was a pre Great Recession and part of that just speaks to the diversification that our economy has seen since 2008. So our economy is much more diversified than it was, much more resilient. And that’s not to say we don’t want those energy jobs here. We we definitely need those jobs and and love those jobs. But it’s nice to see this economy really diversify.

00:10:33 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah. And what it, what I hear underlying diversification is real resiliency, absolutely and being able to weather storms as they play.

00:10:41 Curtis Englehart

00:10:44 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What did we see out of 2022? Do we have your end numbers that?

00:10:49 Curtis Englehart
We do, yeah. Yeah. We’re very excited about our 2022 year in numbers. So one thing that we like to do with with GJEP is we want to put together an annual report every year.

00:11:02 Curtis Englehart
So we can show the community the impact we had on our economy as well as show our investors. I mean we’re A5O1C3 nonprofit and so we rely heavily on our investors and to make sure that we can accomplish the mission in GJEP. And part of that as an as an investor is they need to see what that return is on their investment. So we do that through our annual report every year and we had a really strong last quarter of 2022.

00:11:31 Curtis Englehart
But overall in 2022, we saw seven wins and a win is what we determine in expansion or relocation to the area. With that, there was 83 new primary jobs that we saw come into the area with the potential of 333 jobs. So when these companies come in, they’re not hiring everybody at once. They have that hiring schedule. And so we should see many more jobs come to fruition because of the work that was done in 2022.

00:12:01 Curtis Englehart
I mentioned earlier primary jobs. We’re focusing on primary jobs, anything that pays over the median annual earnings and those 83 jobs that were brought into the area 2022, average wages for those was over $56,000 annually, so hitting our mission there. We also had a number of assists with six additional assists. So that means we helped in some form or fashion with relocation or expansion.

00:12:28 Curtis Englehart
And then lastly, that economic impact that we saw in 2022 was $15.6 million back into the economy here locally through our efforts. So as I sit and talk to my investors and talk to the community, I can say for every dollar invested in Jija in 2022, we saw $20 in economic impact and that’s really powerful to have.

00:12:52 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s a great ROI.

00:12:54 Curtis Englehart
Yeah, absolutely. We’re we’re out of it.

00:12:58 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What is it? I mean, how do we bring this down to the ground? So my question is, you know, from a listeners perspective and I can only imagine that we’ve got home owners, business owners, community members that would listen. So we hear these numbers and there’s some effectiveness that’s happening As far as economic development, what does this mean like on the ground, on Main Street? How does this ripple into the community?

00:13:24 Curtis Englehart
Yeah, really good question. So.

00:13:27 Curtis Englehart
With with more jobs coming into the area primary jobs creates more spending, creates more sales tax, creates more opportunity in general. So I mean you could take this and dissect it a a ton of different ways here but what it means for your you know shop owner on Main Street is more business and and more spending which you know allows you to grow or.

00:13:54 Curtis Englehart
Hit some goals that that maybe we’re a little bit more unrealistic a few years ago from a tourism standpoint. We’re seeing it helps bring in more people from you know hospitality and tourism and we see you know take like your local breweries those are I’m seeing increase in sales and we see more people out exploring our trails and our just outdoor recreation that that we have here so.

00:14:21 Curtis Englehart
It, I would say to sum it up in one word, it just be vibrancy. We’re seeing you know, a very vibrant community here and a lot of that is because of the work that we’ve been able to do with bringing new businesses in or helping businesses expand.

00:14:35 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love it. And I can only imagine you know, being so rooted as a, as a as a true local of being born and raised, I mean over the the years and essentially like what I’ve seen in the last.

00:14:50 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Four or five years and in part is because of COVID, like there’s been an influx of folks coming to the Western Slope like Grand Junction, I’m I’m sure is part of the boom of folks coming from Front Range or other cities and finding a certain lifestyle and a sense of open space that is, is more and more valued. I mean is there. We talked about culture a little bit but as far as community culture, do you feel like?

00:15:19 Matthew Kuehlhorn
The town in general is ready for expansion is there? I mean, how do we put hooks on this to be mindful of it? You had mentioned kind of being a little bit of a gatekeeper in some ways and making sure the right businesses are coming in. How do we navigate that?

00:15:37 Curtis Englehart
Yeah. So we want to have growth, but we want controlled growth, right And and so that is that can be tricky and depending on your.

00:15:48 Curtis Englehart
Community. So we, I mean we also, we support the city of Fruta, the town of Palisades, city of Grand Junction, and everybody has different goals and visions for their community. So one it’s it’s meeting with those community leaders and having a real indepth conversation of what do you want your community to look like. And also meeting just with community members and having those conversations with them as well, because we don’t need to be Denver.

00:16:18 Curtis Englehart
Right. We need to be Mesa County. We need to be the Grand Junction area. And so it’s that controlled growth and it’s really interviewing the the prospect just as much as the prospect interviews us to make sure that we are a good fit for each other and we’re going to thrive together. Your company’s going to thrive here. You’re going to be happy here. You’re going to grow here. Your employees will be happy here. And so that’s really kind of what we’re looking for.

00:16:44 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, so I imagine.

00:16:46 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I mean, a big piece of this is a lot of collaboration with different entities, yes. Is GJEP a hub of that?

00:16:54 Curtis Englehart
Absolutely. We, we really pride ourselves on our collaboration. In fact, it’s one of our values internally is, is collaboration and we have a great community partners. I’d say there definitely is a spirit of collaboration in Mesa County. So we partner very well with our other economic development partners, which is the Grand Junction area, Chamber of Commerce, the business incubator.

00:17:16 Curtis Englehart
And if you go back to 2015, the city of Grand Junction commissioned a economic development report that was termed the North Star Report and in that came out of an MLUA memorandum of understanding between the economic development partners. And so it it it specifically calls out the business incubator GJEP and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and it says this is what you do well.

00:17:45 Curtis Englehart
This is what Jijab does well, right? And so it allows us to all stay in our lanes, but also creates areas for collaboration. And so not all communities have that. Sometimes there’s maybe some internal fighting or there’s some egos, whatever it may be. But I can genuinely say none of us at the economic development leadership level.

00:18:09 Curtis Englehart
We don’t really care who gets credit for what as long as we’re winning together in Mesa County and I feel like that’s a very rare for me.

00:18:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That perspective of of win, win, win. I call it win, win, winning. I think it’s so powerful. So kudos, you know, to the team and into yourself that now leads that component of culture, because I do think that that brings a lot of juice and I’ve seen it. I mean, small towns.

00:18:38 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Operates similarly on so many levels where there’s sometimes competition for limited resources and like you mentioned some egos and and so the collaborative mindset is is noted and that adds a lot of value.

00:18:55 Curtis Englehart

00:18:57 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What are we excited for coming out? I mean obviously I don’t think the the population shift is going to end.

00:19:04 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Anytime real soon, I think. Grand Junction, Co Western Slope, we’re on the map.

00:19:09 Curtis Englehart

00:19:09 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What are we? What are we excited for? What’s coming down the pipe?

00:19:12 Curtis Englehart
So, so like I mentioned earlier, we had a really strong fourth quarter from a business win standpoint and we’re excited to see that continue. We have a lot of great prospects that we’ve been able to walk through the incentive process and we’re hoping to get those across the finish line and make some.

00:19:32 Curtis Englehart
Big announcements in 2023. And so that’s always very exciting to see, new businesses, more jobs, more primary jobs coming to the area and that’s what we’re continuing to see. And so we’re extremely excited about that. One other thing that we do here at GJEP as we host what’s called the Western Colorado Economic Summit every year and that’s coming up on April 27th and that we’re actually sold out for the first time we sold out.

00:20:02 Curtis Englehart
Early this year, we have a waiting list, but that runs from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM. It’s at Colorado Macy University, beautiful campus, and we have a morning keynote speaker, which will be President Marshall from CMU. We have a lunch keynote, which is the Executive Director for the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Eve Lieberman. We have an awards ceremony and then we have 9.

00:20:28 Curtis Englehart
Different breakout sessions where we are taking a deep dive into economic drivers and trying to educate the community, collaborate together and just really look for those opportunities where we can can grow together. And so we’re extremely excited about that event coming up.

00:20:47 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I love that. Are we in general optimistic? Is there a hedge just in some of the communications in our?

00:20:57 Matthew Kuehlhorn
In our news these days is about recession and doing glue right like we can get a lot of that but where do where do you see Mesa County’s economics in general going over the next five years? Like is it a lot of optimism? Is it is it hedged?

00:21:14 Curtis Englehart
Is it? Sure, Yeah. I I mean, I am an an optimist in general, but I do have a lot of optimism for Mesa County, I would say, you know.

00:21:26 Curtis Englehart
What we’re seeing from a business standpoint right now is a little bit of this wait and see mode, higher interest rates. Is there going to be recession, is there not? So we have seen a little bit of that to be honest. But the way that Mesa County really recovered from the the COVID pandemic was really remarkable and really showcased the resiliency of our economy. Mesa County was the first county in the state of Colorado to regain all of their jobs.

00:21:55 Curtis Englehart
To pre COVID levels, we we did, We were the quickest in the state when COVID all started. We were projected by whoever they are to be one of the most affected negatively from the pandemic and that was not the case. And a lot of that was due to just the collaborative efforts of community partners, economic development partners and a resilient economy. And so whether there’s a recession, whether there isn’t one, what I’m really excited about it is just our collaborative.

00:22:25 Curtis Englehart
Mindset resilient economy and I still think we’re going to see some really good positive growth over the next five years in Mesa County and we’re not no longer a secret people want to be here and so and we want people here but again we want to make sure that it that it makes sense for all about.

00:22:45 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, I love that. We’re already seeing that resiliency at play coming out of COVID.

00:22:52 Curtis Englehart

00:22:53 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s the jam, right? Yep. Be able to take the stores kind of on the chin and and keep moving forward. I mean, that speaks a lot to just the culture of of Mesa County and Grand Junction community in general, like, let’s go.

00:23:06 Curtis Englehart
Yep, definitely, Yep. Yeah, where you are. We’re not scared of a challenge for sure around here. I mean, we’ve been through a lot and we always come out the other side better. So yeah, I’m definitely optimistic.

00:23:18 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, well, there’s there’s beautiful collaborations, beautiful amenities and and endless resources available. And collaboration is the game. Bring the bring the people to the table and figure it out.

00:23:30 Curtis Englehart

00:23:34 Matthew Kuehlhorn
What was I going to ask you? I was I totally lost. My question do you still, do you still play ball?

00:23:41 Curtis Englehart
I don’t. Nope. I.

00:23:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Not even softball, the correct league, no.

00:23:45 Curtis Englehart
Definitely. I stay. I stay away from slowpitch softball. That is just not my, not my jam. I actually played a few years of Fastpitch after I graduated, so and and that’s a whole different, different world. But the underhand Fastpitch, I went to a couple of state tournaments and had a blast doing that. But there’s just not any leagues around here for that, but.

00:24:09 Curtis Englehart
Once I was done playing baseball, I I decided it was time to hang him up and and yeah, move on.

00:24:17 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Yeah, right on.

00:24:18 Curtis Englehart
Right on. I will tell you I do. I go to a ton of baseball games, especially Colorado Macy University there a phenomenal baseball team. They are ranked nationally every year. They’ve gone to the World Series multiple times, two time national runners up and beautiful brand new ballpark. Talk about a great community asset there.

00:24:40 Curtis Englehart
Love to take the family and go watch some ball games over there.

00:24:43 Matthew Kuehlhorn
I’m so glad you brought that up. I love watching ball games too, and I’m going to be checking out some CMU games no doubt. It is a beautiful facility and that’s great information to know. Curtis For listeners that want to get engaged, involved, learn more about GJEP and activities, Where do we want to send them?

00:25:04 Curtis Englehart
Yeah, so they could go to our website to get all of our information, which is.

00:25:09 Curtis Englehart
or feel free to send me an e-mail and I’m at so whatever means I’m happy to meet with people one-on-one. Happy to let people go to our website. And on our website we have sign up opportunity for our newsletter which we ship out on a monthly basis that has.

00:25:35 Curtis Englehart
A wealth of information on what’s happening at GJP as well as within the community, so would love to connect with people that way.

00:25:41 Matthew Kuehlhorn
That’s awesome. Will include a lot of those links in our in our show notes. So if you’re listening, please go check out GJP and and learn more, get involved, reach out. I think you know just in closing Curtis, the economic development conversation is really top of mind for a lot of municipalities and having.

00:26:04 Matthew Kuehlhorn
A lot of my experience up in Gunnison, which is much smaller community than than Grand Junction, you know, there’s less resources at times, but it’s still top of mind. And I love the fact that GJEP is active, collaborative and available and that just speaks volumes for community in general and just anchoring it all the way back, you know, especially for listeners who may not be in the realm, the point of economic development.

00:26:32 Matthew Kuehlhorn
As we’ve been discussing, is to really create these ripples throughout the community, strengthen everybody, all boats rise on tides rise kind of dealing and so I think it’s awesome. I really appreciate it learning a little bit more final words from you, my friend.

00:26:49 Curtis Englehart
Yeah. Well, yeah. First, Matt, thank you so much for letting me be a guest on your podcast. I I really do appreciate it. You know, I would say too just.

00:27:00 Curtis Englehart
Being able to, if you’re a listener, you know, economic development isn’t so much of A what’s in it for me type thing. It’s more of the longterm vision of creating a place of opportunity for our citizens as well as our our future generations. And I have two girls that are in the school system now. I have a fourth grader and a second grader and whether they choose to go to college, whether they.

00:27:28 Curtis Englehart
Don’t Whether they go to school outside the area, whatever their situation may be, I want them to have an opportunity to come back to Mesa County and thrive here, just like I’ve been given the opportunity to do so. And GJEP directly impacts that. And that’s why I’m so passionate about this job and about economic development.

00:27:50 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Beautifully said, Curtis. Thank you so much for your time today.

00:27:52 Curtis Englehart
Yeah. Thank you.

00:27:54 Matthew Kuehlhorn
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to the Kooler Lifestyle Podcast. We count on your subscriptions, your likes, your shares, and I encourage you to do that. Now, if you’re watching on YouTube, go ahead and subscribe lower right hand button. If you’re on audio, download this, share it, and we look forward to having you on the next one.