Governor unveils economic blueprint for rural Colorado

Governor Jared Polis
Betsy Markey

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has unveiled a plan to promote economic development in rural areas of the state.

The rural economic blueprint proposes efforts to leverage such assets as agricultural operations, outdoor recreation opportunities and tourism attractions. The blueprint also proposes efforts to expand access to broadband services and repair roads and bridges.

“We are excited to unveil our rural economic blueprint, which we believe will lead to more prosperity all across our state — from the Eastern Plains to Southern Colorado to the Western Slope. With true collaboration between rural communities and the state, we can truly build a Colorado for all,” Polis said at a press conference in Montrose.

Polis was joined at the event by the executive directors of the state office of economic development and state departments of local affairs and labor and employment as well as officials from the City of Montrose and Montrose County.

“Our rural communities are part of our economic lifeblood. This blueprint builds upon Colorado’s current successful rural economic development programs and encourages innovative practices that work,” said Betsy Markey, executive director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Rick Garcia, executive director of the  Department of Local Affairs, agreed. “This blueprint is an important piece of our collaborative efforts to ensure workers are connected to the future economy, rural economies have access to quality housing, affordable health care and are able to expand broadband infrastructure.”

Montrose Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bynum welcomed Polis. “It’s fitting that the governor would make this important announcement in our community, where we are innovating, investing in our future, ensuring our outdoor economy continues to thrive and our rural quality of life is protected.”

The blueprint reflects the results of more than 155 meetings and listening sessions conducted by various state agencies.

The blueprint proposes policies and actions in seven areas:

  • Build on current successful economic development programs.
  • Leverage the unique assets of rural Colorado.
  • Invest in community infrastructure.
  • Invest in roads and bridges.
  • Save money on health care.
  • Support community success in the transition to renewable energy production.
  • Fulfill every child’s potential.

Polis said progress has been made in lowering health care costs in rural areas and providing full-day kindergarten. But additional work is needed, he said.

The blueprint promotes efforts to build on economic development efforts and programs in rural areas, including the network of small business development centers as well various incentives offered through Opportunity Zones and the Colorado Rural Jump-Start Program.

The blueprint calls for collaborative efforts with farmers and ranchers to sustain growth for the agricultural industry, including training and initiatives for young producers and a statewide initiative to promote hemp research, production and processing. The blueprint promotes outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors as well as work to promote tourism destinations and the tourism industry.

The blueprint calls for expanded broadband services to rural households and schools as well as affordable housing development in rural areas.

As part of efforts to repair roads and bridges in rural areas, the Colorado Department of Transportation and  Transportation Commission have set aside $110 million a year for the next three years for road resurfacing.

Establishing a reinsurance program is expected to lower average health care insurance premiums by 20 percent in 2020, with the biggest declines in rural and mountainous areas. A state public option for health coverage also has been proposed.

The blueprint advocates efforts to help rural communities with a transition in energy production and the goal of complete production from renewable sources by 2040. That includes programs and funding for communities affected by a changing energy economy.

In addition, the blueprint calls for efforts to provide additional preschool and childcare programs, address teacher shortages and support rural teachers and parents.

The rural economic blueprint is available online from the website located at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bE3pLnZGtNglNHXxRki9dPePf4lTekzw/view.