Routt County towns hope Jump-Start program will attract new businesses

The Colorado Economic Development Commission has approved Routt County and each of the municipalities within its borders to join the Rural Jump-Start Zone Program, which offers incentives to eligible businesses operating outside of Colorado and new startups to relocate their operations to Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Yampa. Hayden and rural Routt County were approved earlier this year. (Photo by Scott Franz)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Getting Steamboat Springs added to the Rural Jump-Start Zone program has been a goal for Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski.

On Monday, Hermacinski was one of several people and groups who were celebrating the news that Steamboat Springs, Oak Creek and Yampa would join Hayden and rural Routt County as part of the program, which incentivizes start-ups as well as businesses operating outside of Colorado to move their operations into one of 12 designated Jump-Start zones.

“It was a long, hard slog for two years,” Hermacinski said. “There were a lot of people that helped with it. It was a long process, but I think it is a really important program, so it was worth it.”

Local business leaders who assisted with the project included Randy Rudasics, manager of the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center, Steamboat Springs City Councilman Scott Ford and the Steamboat Springs Chamber.

“Supporting our small businesses and encouraging diversification is critical to Routt County’s future,” Hermacinski said.

But the path to that announcement wasn’t easy.

In February, Hayden and rural Routt County were accepted as part of the program, which gives eligible businesses relief from Colorado state income sales and use taxes, county and municipal personal property taxes and state income taxes for their employees for up to eight years; however, Steamboat was not accepted.

Hermacinski said Steamboat only met two of the seven metrics for an area to be accepted. She said each community needed to meet at least three of the metrics.

“When we talked to the Colorado Economic Development Commission, they did not want to include Steamboat,” said John Bristol, the Chamber’s economic development director. “They thought that Steamboat did not fit the metrics as a resort community and the town was perceived as being too wealthy.”

Bristol said his group felt that perception was unfounded and decided to petition the Colorado Economic Development Commission again to include Steamboat.

Hermacinski said the departure of Smartwool, as well as declining coal production, fueled the group’s efforts and may have played a key role in helping Steamboat become a part of the Jump-Start program.

“The latest opportunity allowed us to come back and revisit the issues,” Bristol said. “Since we had a little more time to tee this up, we were able to include Oak Creek and Yampa, so that we have the entire county covered now.”

Bristol said the program, which is administered by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, will offer an enticement for businesses that relocate to Routt County. Those businesses must create a minimum of five new jobs, which pay at or above the county’s average annual wage, and work in partnership with the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center to be eligible for the incentives.

Bristol explained that the program is an economic development tool that supports economic diversification across industry sectors so rural communities are more resilient when economic shifts occur. He believes that the program could tip the scale for some companies, but he doesn’t expect it to be the only driver when it comes to drawing businesses to Northwest Colorado.

“I think, when you lead with incentives it sends the wrong signal. What’s most important for us is the quality of life and that we have a business-friendly environment,” Bristol said. “If a business wants to relocate here, they have to be sold on what the community is and how that company fits into that. That’s the most important thing and then the incentives come into it and tip the balance in our favor.”

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

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