The seeds are being set for a blossoming computer tech industry in Grand Junction, but the city is still a few years away from full bloom.
Companies such as ProStar and Kaart are leading the charge in making the Grand Valley Western Colorado’s own, little Silicon Valley.
“Think of it like you’re pushing a boulder up a hill,” said Page Tucker, CEO of ProStar. “Right now, there’s a few of us pushing. We need more people and eventually, we’re going to reach the top.”
Tech companies have been in Grand Junction for awhile, but an early heavy hitter was Kaart, at 650 Main St., a GIS mapping company that opened in 2013.
Then in 2015, ProStar, at 760 Horizon Drive, was the first company to move here as part of the Rural JumpStart Program, a state initiative that provides tax credits to companies that relocate to areas such as Grand Junction. Earlier this year, ProStar became the first Grand Junction-based company to be publicly traded when it entered the Toronto stock exchange.
Since ProStar moved to Grand Junction, companies like Infocu5, Pax8 and CloudRise have moved here in recent years.
“It takes one or two businesses to call a place home for others to join,” Tucker said. “It creates competition, which then increases compensation.”
One roadblock economic and industry professionals agree that tech faces, though, is available workers.
“There aren’t enough experienced workers here,” said Mara Hardy, business development director for tech for the Grand Junction Economic Development.
Colorado Mesa University is a critical player in changing that. Colleges with strong tech programs can cultivate and funnel talent into the local companies, and CMU is working to meet that need.
Sarah Jackson, director of operations at Kaart, said that the CMU’s impact has been evident.
“The workers we get are great, it’s just that there aren’t a lot of them,” said Jackson. “We have two interns from CMU and we’ll get cold calls from students asking about it, so word is getting out.”
Other companies are taking advantage of CMU. CloudRise, a cybersecurity company, recently moved here from Denver and set up its headquarters in the Maverick Innovation Center, 730 Mesa Ave.
CloudRise Founder and CEO Rob Eggebrecht also wants to be on an advisory board to help shape curriculum, which gives his company an opportunity to shape its future employees.
That partnership eases access between employers and future employees.
“Employers and technology companies may wish to serve as mentors to students and their projects,” said Tom Benton, director of the Maverick Innovation Center. “Employers may connect for interns that allow a mutual ‘test drive’ or design special projects that need the resources that are unique to the university.”
Cultivating a relationship between local CEOs and the university is key to the industry’s growth Tucker said.
ProStar is Tucker’s third tech startup, the previous two being in Charlotte, North Carolina and Silicon Valley. The former is in a triangle of Duke University, University of North Carolina and Wake Forest University, and Silicon Valley is in Stanford University’s backyard.
What CMU doesn’t have is a master’s program in the relevant fields, and changing that will be key, Tucker said.
By Tucker’s estimation, Grand Junction is still about five years away from beginning to get recognition as a tech hub, and that’s if the industry leaders continue their efforts. Devoting a part of town as the tech version of Las Colonias, a dedicated area for outdoor recreation businesses, would help attract other companies, he said.
“Above all, though, there needs to be access to funding or incentives,” Tucker said. “The most difficult thing for startups is gaining capital.”