Grand County leads region in job growth | SkyHiNews.com
Hank Shell
hshell@skyhidailynews.com

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Grand County leads region in job growth

The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments recently named Grand County the regional leader in job growth, with an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, which was lower than both the state and the national rates.

Job growth in the county increased by 4.4 percent from April 2013 to April 2014.

The spur of economic development in the county may partially be attributed to job-growth programs established in recent years, such as Grand County's economic development department and the Grand Enterprise Initiative, which offers one-on-one free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business.

Since starting in January 2013, Grand Enterprise Initiative facilitator Patrick Brower has managed to improve the business climate in Grand County.

At the end of his first year with the Grand Enterprise Initiative, Brower helped entrepreneurs create four new businesses, which in turn created five new jobs.

In his second year, Brower worked with nine new businesses, which in turned created 22 new jobs.

He attributes his rapid client growth to people feeling more confident in the business climate.

"I think that people are forward-thinking again, whereas they were holding on tight to what they had," Brower said. "People are thinking about planning for future growth."

The Grand Enterprise Initiative services are free of charge for those looking to start up businesses.

"I'll work with anybody who calls me up," said Brower. "Mainly, I work with them to connect them with the people and resources in the county that they'll need in order to succeed."

Brower, who has lived in Granby most of his adult life, worked as publisher and managing editor for former Grand County Newspapers in Granby, owned his own consulting business and started a successful nonprofit in the county.

His connections in the county and his business management acumen make Brower an invaluable resource to anyone with questions about their business.

Rachel Rayburn, owner of Altitude Jewelry in Winter Park, has been in business for 10 years, but contacted Brower when she decided to open a physical location.

"I make pretty jewelry, but I don't know how to run a business," said Rayburn. "He helped me get focused on how to do all the other parts of it besides just making the jewelry and the marketing."

Rayburn opened her store in Winter Park last Christmas, and since then, her wholesale business has taken off. She now has four employees.

"I wouldn't be where I was at if I didn't have those services," Rayburn said. "I wouldn't be employing all the people that I am if I didn't have that guidance as to how it all works."

Brower assists all varieties of businesses across the county.

Kendra Wilkinson, current owner of Jilly's eatery in Kremmling, approached Brower when she decided to start her first business.

"Our biggest problem was figuring out what we needed as far as permits and getting through all the red tape of the health department, the town business license and the sales tax license," said Wilkinson. "Patrick was extremely helpful."

Brower's specific knowledge of businesses in Grand County was especially helpful, Wilkinson said.

"He was able to really help us predict some problems and get around them before they became big problems," she said.

Jilly's currently has three full-time employees.

Leaders working to improve climate

Brower has been working closely with DiAnn Butler of the Grand County Economic Development department to foster a more cohesive environment for new businesses.

"We feel its important to take a county-wide approach toward all of these issues related to our job growth and our economic development because, although the county is diverse, a business in Granby still depends on working with people in Kremmling," Brower said. "There is still a connection there that can help their business."

Some obstacles that Grand County businesses face include the seasonality of tourism and a small year-round population, Brower said.

In order to have businesses, you have to have a solid workforce, and vice versa.

"The one thing that we did see is that people were leaving the county," Brower said. "Families were leaving because they couldn't get work. They couldn't get work that was satisfying."

It's a "chicken or the egg" problem that Brower and Butler have been working to resolve.

One example of their efforts is the recently opened Northwest Small Business Development Center, which offers business workshops in Kremmling and Winter Park.

Butler said the economic development department worked with other local interests to open the center.

"It's a collaboration, and I think a lot of what's exciting about what Grand County is doing is we're pooling our resources together and working as a team," Butler said.

This combination of efforts is giving way to a combination of solutions — like the Grand Economic Initiative and the small business center — which Butler says make the county more business-friendly.

"It's really all of the things we need to make a strong business climate," Butler said.

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.