by Dennis E. Powell
In some communities, the local business incubator is such an institution that few local companies haven’t been aided by it in one way or another. Such a community is the western Colorado city of Grand Junction.
Located at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers – the “junction” in the city’s name – the area has become the U.S. capital of mountain biking. Centered in an area of vast oil shale reserves, the region experienced a boom in the 1970s when geopolitics threatened to drive up the price of oil to the point where recovering petroleum from the shale would become economically feasible. But in 1982 Exxon, which owns oil shale rights in the region, decided to suspend its development operations, which were headquartered in Grand Junction. Having lost its primary economic engine, the community looked for more stable and diverse economic underpinnings. Tourism and agriculture came into sharper focus – as did the development of local businesses – which led to the development of a business incubator.
“Within Mesa County, very few people go into business without talking to us,” said Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Grand Junction Business Incubator, NBIA’s 2013 Dinah Adkins Incubator of the Year in the General and Special Focus category. Being chosen for the honor is a rare event. But in BIC’s case, it underlines the effect it has had on the city and its surrounding area – because this is the second time the incubator has won the award. Under the name “Western Colorado Business Development Center,” it was the 1996 NBIA Incubator of the Year.
When it won the earlier award, it was already a well-established program. “We began accepting clients in 1987,” said Maraschin. “It’s amazing looking back on it. It’s phenomenal.” The incubator is headquartered on a 46-acre campus, but its activities extend far beyond that site. Over its more than a quarter century, it has worked with hundreds of existing businesses, providing both long-term advice and emergency triage. In 2013, it opened a satellite office in the civic center in nearby Fruita, Colo.
With strong ties to local agricultural extension, the local and state health departments, and community leaders, as well as its own loan funds and an on-site SBDC, “we’re kind of a one-stop shop,” Maraschin noted. “For instance, we work with 70 to 80 percent of the food businesses here.” The program has a 2500-square-foot commercial kitchen, but works also with food service companies located away from the physical incubator.
Keywords: Incubator management, NBIA programs, client services – general
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