Gov. Polis: State can help with economic development efforts

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Governor Jared Polis
Governor Jared Polis

The state can assist in building on the success Mesa County has experienced with economic development, according to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

Polis offered both congratulations and help during his appearance at the Western Colorado Economic Summit in Grand Junction.

“I want to congratulate you on the work you’ve done so far,” Polis said.

Mesa County has the strongest gross domestic product of any area in Colorado outside the Denver area and a more diversified economy with gains in the outdoor recreation and technology sectors, he said.

He cited work on developing a business park near Las Colonias Park in downtown Grand Junction. “That’s going to be a major community asset.”

The business park will include new quarters for Bonsai Design and RockyMounts and is expected to attract other companies involved in outdoor recreation.

The state can collaborate with local organizations and provide resources to further promote efforts, Polis said.

Federal legislation offers tax breaks to relocate or start businesses in so-called opportunity zones, seven of which are located in Mesa County, he said. The Rural Jump-Start Program creates additional zones in Colorado in which eligible businesses are exempted from paying state and local taxes.

Other state efforts are underway to improve the business climate in Colorado, Polis said.

A $30.5 billion state budget approved for the coming fiscal year includes $175 million for free full-day kindergarten in public schools and an additional $300 million for roads, he said.

Polis said free full-day kindergarten will free up more parents to enter the work force if they choose as well as save them money on child care. Moreover, it’s important to fund kindergarten at the same level as other grades, he said.

Additional funding for roads constitutes an investment in infrastructure that keeps Colorado competitive, Polis said.

Work also is under way on another important issue for Colorado businesses, Polis said, and that’s reducing the cost of health care and health insurance.

Polis signed a measure designed to increase transparency in health care by requiring Colorado hospitals to submit annual reports tracking what they’re charging patients and how they’re spending money.

Another measure is designed to reduce health insurance premiums by having the state help insure insurers.

The governor answered two questions at the economic summit, one about high-speed internet access and the other about state regulations over the oil and gas industry.

Polis said the state continues to collaborate with communities to improve access in rural areas to high-speed internet services.

Polis also was asked whether or not he’d support efforts to create a separate part of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to oversee energy development in Western Colorado because of differences between the Western Slope and Front Range.

Polis signed into law legislation that not only changes the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, but also gives local governments more control over drilling and other activities.

While global commodity pricing exerts more effect over the industry than state regulations, Polis said he’s hopeful the new law will promote stability as well as additional investment in what he said remains an important industry in Colorado.

Shifting more control over the oil and gas industry from the state to the local level could help in accommodating the differences in energy development in Western Colorado, he said.