Effort under way to jump-start economy through incentive program

Senator Ray Scott
Senator Ray Scott
Kristi Pollard
Kristi Pollard

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A decision is soon expected on an effort to make Mesa County among the first counties in Colorado to participate in a program offering tax incentives to businesses that create new jobs.

“This is a really exciting time. It’s going to be fun to see what comes with this,” said State Sen. Ray Scott, one of the local officials who spoke at a news conference to praise the potential of the Rural Jump-Start Zone to live up to its billing to promote economic development.

Colorado Mesa University has submitted an application with the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade to make Mesa County one of three counties to participate in the Jump-Start program during its inaugural year.

A decision on the application is expected by Jan. 14. Businesses can begin submitting their applications to receive tax incentives under the program starting Jan. 19, said Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

Two businesses are ready to apply, Pollard said, and four more businesses are expected to do so in 2016. “We’re excited.”

The Jump-Start program creates zones in Colorado in which eligible businesses are exempted from paying state and local taxes.

To participate, the core functions of businesses may not compete with existing operations. Businesses must create a minimum of five net new jobs in the county in which they’re located and establish a relationship with an institution of higher education — CMU in Mesa County.

Qualifying businesses are exempt from paying state income, use and sales taxes as well as county and municipal personal property taxes. In Mesa County, local government jurisdictions have offered additional incentives, Pollard said.

Mesa County as well as the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita and town of Palisade all passed resolutions to join in the Jump-Start program and offer incentives.

Businesses that apply to receive exemptions under the program will be evaluated initially to determine eligibility and then evaluated annually to ensure ongoing compliance, Pollard said. Businesses may receive tax exemptions for up to four years with an option for an additional four years, she said.

If approved, the Jump-Start program will position Mesa County to compete with other areas and other states in recruiting new businesses, Pollard said. But the program also can benefit existing businesses that launch new operations, she said.

Sen. Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who pushed to enact the state legislation creating the Jump-Start program, said the effort is designed to bring more jobs to Mesa County. “Gosh knows we need it here.”

State Rep. Yeulin Willett, a Republican from Grand Junction who also sponsored the legislation, said it makes sense to allocate more resources to the Western Slope, a region that offers ample water as well as good access to transportation and higher education. “If this money is going to get spent, why not spend it on the Western Slope?”

Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said the Jump-Start program constitutes another economic development tool. “We’re all anxious to start this to bring more jobs to Western Colorado.”

Thea Chase, a member of the Palisade Board of Trustees who’s long been involved in promoting business startups and economic development, agreed. “Incentives are needed to put the Western Slope on the map.”