Bill extending, modifying Rural Jump-Start program signed into law

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signs a bill into law that extends and modifies the Rural Jump-Start Program. Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts, right, was on hand for the signing. Roberts, along with Republican Rep. Janice Rich, introduced the bill in the Colorado House. The bill made its way through the Colorado senate and was signed into law on Monday.
Dylan Roberts/courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Thanks to a bill signed Monday by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Routt County will continue to offer incentives to bring new small businesses to Northwest Colorado.

“I am thrilled to see this bill signed into law today because our economy needs help getting back to work, especially in rural Colorado,” said Democratic Rep. Dylan Roberts. “From Routt County to Mesa County, the Rural Jump-Start Program has been the reason that dozens of businesses were able to open their doors and hire employees in rural Colorado.”

Roberts, who grew up in Steamboat Springs and represents House District 26 that includes Eagle and Routt counties, introduced the bill along with Republican Rep. Janice Rich. The bill passed the Colorado House in March and was moved along in the Colorado State Senate in June with strong bipartisan votes.

The new law extends the Rural Jump-Start program for another five years and modifies the program that provides incentives for small businesses to open their doors and hire employees in rural, economically distressed counties.

Gone are provisions that limited which businesses are eligible. It’s a change that Roberts said will make many new businesses in more parts of the state eligible for the program.

“The original bill was passed in 2015, and it had some parameters that got put in statute that limited the types of businesses that were eligible to get the tax credit,” Roberts said. “We’ve significantly overhauled a lot of the rules so that it’s much more accessible for businesses, and we’re really happy about that.”

One of the biggest rule changes has to do with competition. In the old bill, a business that wanted to open, but was in competition with any other business across the state, would not be eligible for the tax credits. The rule has been changed to a more regional approach where the new business can not be in competition with a similar business in a contiguous county.

The original Rural Jump-Start Program also included a clause that required the new business to partner with an institution of higher education. Roberts explained that wasn’t a problem in counties that had those institutions, but limited counties that did have access to that resource. The new bill relaxes that rule saying new businesses to partner with their local chamber of commerce or economic development organization or similar groups like that — it doesn’t necessarily have to be a higher education institution. 

“In rural economic development, we don’t have a lot of incentive tools in our toolbox, “ said John Bristol, director of economic development for the Steamboat Springs Chamber. “So this is a really important tool to have in our toolbox when we’re talking to new businesses that want to relocate to rural Colorado or new startup companies that are interested and trying to decide where they’re going locate.”

Bristol has put a lot of effort to bring the Rural Jump-Start program to Routt County.

Because of the criteria used to create the Rural Jump-Start zones, Routt County was not eligible for the program because it was outside the per capita income used to determine the zones. However, Bristol said the economic leaders in the community argued that those numbers were skewed and asked the Office of Economic Development and International Trade that runs the program included, which caused the program to reconsider.

He said Routt County was then accepted to the program in August 2017, but at that time Steamboat was still excluded. Bristol said they went back to program leaders one more time and late in 2018 Steamboat was finally included.

Currently, hearOclub, a Steamboat-based hearing aid subscription service that has expanded its reach to more than 40 states since beginning operations in 2017, is the only Routt County business taking part in the program. But Bristol said with the changes and extension he expects more companies to take part.

As part of the program, businesses receive tax incentives from the state for up to eight years, and is required to add a certain number of new jobs to be in the program.

“The a business is right there in the balance, and if they can get into the Rural Jump-Start program and they’re able to decrease that tax burden for a certain period of time then that helps them help their business plan to get them started and running,” Bristol said. “It just decreases that initial startup costs for the business, and then once they’re up running and committed to run through their business plan, and they’ve committed to hiring employees that’s where that investment is paid back through taxes.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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