Looking to diversify Routt’s workforce, Yampa Valley Autism Program applies to Northwest Enterprise Zone | SteamboatToday.com

Looking to diversify Routt’s workforce, Yampa Valley Autism Program applies to Northwest Enterprise Zone

The area shaded in purple represents the Northwest Colorado Enterprise Zone. The Yampa Valley Autism Program, which serves individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, has support from Routt County officials for the group's application to become a project for the Northwest Enterprise Zone.
Map of Northwest Enterprise Zone/ courtesy of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado

Routt County officials are showing support for the Yampa Valley Autism Program’s application to become a project for the Northwest Enterprise Zone.

Entry into the program comes with a tax credit that county officials hope will help diversify the workforce and incentivize donors.

The Yampa Valley Autism Program serves individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. A pillar of the program is providing vocational training and transition programs to support the employment of individuals ages 15-21.

Operational Director Heidi Mendisco said one of the main intentions behind the application is getting the individuals the Yampa Valley Autism Program serves into the workforce in meaningful roles that they enjoy.

“Individuals with developmental disabilities are 82% more likely to show up for their job day after day,” Mendisco said. “The tax credit would allow us to not only find jobs that individuals feel fulfilled in but also fill community needs with the current staffing shortage.”

Mendisco noted that a priority for the Yampa Valley Autism Program is to find the right career path for people, especially considering there’s a history of individuals with disabilities being placed into jobs that were available and needed staffing.

Entry into the Enterprise Zone would allow donors to claim 25% of a cash donation as an income tax credit or 12.5% for an in-kind donation.

Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond and Routt County Economic Partnership Executive Director John Bristol wrote letters of support to the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade requesting that the Yampa Valley Autism Program be accepted into the Enterprise Zone program.

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According to Bristol, Routt County entered the Enterprise Zone, created as a designated zone for counties that fall under certain metrics of economic distress, around five years ago. Different programs can apply to be an Enterprise Zone project with the county’s support. 

“A way to support the local economy is incentivizing business through these tax credits and, in this case, incentivizing nonprofits to stand up and be successful in what they set out to do,” Bristol said. 

In Commissioner Redmond’s letter of support, he touched on Routt County’s efforts to diversify and strengthen its workforce as the economy struggles with the end of the coal-fired power generation industry, Smartwool moving to Denver and an increasing dependence on the tourism and hospitality industry.

“YVAP expands employment opportunities for their students across a variety of industries and thus developing and expanding our local workforce,” Redmond wrote in the letter.

He also emphasized how the Yampa Valley Autism Program aids workforce retention by providing services to working families that otherwise would need to relocate to be able to access those services.

Redmond emphasized the county’s goals of long-term sustainability in the workforce while thoughtfully balancing the quality of life and economic well-being across the region.

This Enterprise Zone Project is through the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which requires eligible projects “to focus on improving economic conditions and have measurable outcomes. … The goal is to garner public participation and contributions for projects that improve the economy for the benefit of the broader community.”

Selected projects have a maximum five-year term in which they can be a part of the Enterprise Zone. The time window is meant to encourage the administrator and project representative to set near-term objectives. The purpose of the project is not to be ongoing but to garner community participation for a specific achievable objective.

The Colorado Office of Economic Development caps tax credits at $750,000 per project. After reaching that point, no more contribution tax credits can be awarded in that calendar year.

The Office of Economic Development also allows any Enterprise Zone project to set a minimum contribution of $250. This does not prohibit the certification of contributions below $250. This is intended to ensure that the credit is accessible to all Colorado taxpayers who want to donate, while making sure that the value of the contribution justifies the administrative costs.

Each fall the Office of Economic Development will prompt local Enterprise Zone administrators to undergo a review of their active contribution projects to evaluate the performance, reporting and certification compliance.

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