Gov. Hickenlooper signs SB 15-282 on campus
Last May, Gov. John Hickenlooper visited CMU's campus to sign the senate bill creating the Rural Jump-Start Zone program.


CMU jump-starts state economic development

The idea for Colorado’s Rural Jump-Start Zone tax credit program was born in Mesa County. The bill that created it was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Colorado Mesa University’s campus. So it’s fitting that the community that’s driven the program all along is still leading the charge. On Jan. 14, Mesa County became the first county in Colorado to create a Jump-Start Zone. The same day, Colorado Mesa University became the first Institute of Higher Education (IHE) to be approved to manage the program.

The Rural Jump-Start Zone program is designed to bring businesses and jobs to economically distressed areas of the state by providing tax relief to new companies and their employees. “Mesa County and rural Colorado in general has really been lagging behind other parts of Colorado economically,” said CMU Vice-President for Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Derek Wagner.

Prior to the opening of the 2015 Colorado General Assembly session, CMU President Tim Foster and Jay Seaton, publisher of The Daily Sentinel, approached local legislators with an idea modeled after a New York tax credit program. Senate Bill 15-282 passed in May, creating the Rural Jump-Start Zone program.

Distressed counties — identified using measures such as unemployment rates, per-capita income and population — and their municipalities must opt-in the program. They then partner with an Institute of Higher Education to apply to the state’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) to create a Jump-Start Zone in their area. New businesses that move into these zones are granted relief from state income taxes, state sales and use tax and county and municipal business personal property tax. New hires at these businesses receive relief from state income taxes. Existing companies that create new divisions may also benefit.

“Institutions of higher education play a primary role in this project,” Wagner said. Businesses interested in receiving the tax credits must work closely with the local IHE to ensure that their product or service does not directly compete with another Colorado business. They’ll also communicate their hiring needs to the IHE.

“They call us and they say ‘I need a workforce that has the following skills…’ We’ll connect them with the appropriate academic department, whether it’s at Western Colorado Community College or CMU, and figure out how to develop a partnership to ensure that we’re producing graduates who have the right skills,” said Wagner. The partnership benefits both parties because the company will be able to connect students with internships, mentorships and, eventually, jobs.

Local employers will also assist the university by providing feedback on academic programs and joining advisory committees. “From an economic development perspective and from an institutional development perspective, it’s good for us to be involved in those conversations up front rather than having businesses move to the community and then waiting a few years to develop a relationship with our institution,” Wagner said.

Now that both the county and university have been approved by the EDC, the area will begin seeing an influx of new businesses and jobs. That’s great news for the community behind the program.

“Our community is really leading this effort from the very beginning — the conception of the legislation, the passage of the legislation, the implementation of this program. We were the first in the door to apply and to be approved,” Wagner said. “It’s a great example of our community coming together and saying, ‘Rather than sitting back and letting these things happen to us, we’re going to step forward and try to be proactive about our future.’”

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