On a year’s curious work of Developing local businesses

The last year has surely been quizzical for business development in Grand County.

Quizzical because while there were many difficult and unfortunate challenges for small businesses and small business start-ups in Grand County, there are also continued to be enthusiasm for new businesses and business expansions. The numbers of the Grand Enterprise Initiative for the year tell that story.

Most people would expect, in light of COVID and the fires, that business could have ground to a halt in the county. But our work here conveys a nuanced picture.

In 2020 we added 32 new clients, bringing the total number of clients of the Grand Enterprise Initiative from 411 to 443. A client is any person who has called and asked for assistance with a business start-up or expansion and who has met to discuss the ideas. In years before 2020, we would add 40 to 50 clients on average. So a total of 32 new clients in 2020 is surprising.

That resulted in our assistance with 17 new businesses in the county in 2020 which helped to create 29 new jobs. Some of these were part-time jobs for entrepreneurs just getting started or regular full-time jobs through expansions or acquisitions.

My point here is that business hasn’t been all bad and enthusiasm for entrepreneurial ventures in the county hasn’t vanished because of COVID and the fires. My hat is off to the individuals out there who are persisting in their dreams to own and operate their own businesses in Grand County.

But there have been closures for businesses in the county, many directly related to COVID. In two cases, one a retail store and one a restaurant, the COVID restrictions and risks pushed “older” owners into the position of simply closing up shop and retiring. In another two cases I know of people have held off on launching business ventures that would have been heavily dependent on COVID-restricted business. These people are waiting; their plans are on hold.
The general rule has been that small businesses that didn’t have the funds in reserve to persist through the bad three months of COVID (March, April and May of 2020) struggled or closed. Other larger businesses that had more resources persisted, some losing money and just hanging on.

In sum, COVID and the fires definitely impacted our county from a business perspective.
On the other side of the coin is the fact that in many other ways business has been booming, which is strange to say. This is why 2020 has been so quizzical from a business development perspective.

Many tourists flocked to the county last summer and during this early winter. This has boosted businesses that were able to stay open. Real estate and construction, two of the larger segments of our local economy, have been booming. And while retail in some parts of the country has been devastated, much of the retail activity in Grand County has done quite well. Think liquor stores, essential supply businesses (hardware, construction supplies, business supplies) when pondering the retail sectors that have done OK in the midst of COVID.
Most businesses depending on live entertainment and gathering groups of people were hurt. I can only hope they hang on.

Which brings us to the pivot to a new economy here once COVID truly starts to fade away. I am hoping that truly happens by mid-summer or early fall at the latest.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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