May business outlook be merry and bright

The last few days of 2015 seem at least a bit more merry and bright in the Grand Valley thanks in part to the expectation renewed efforts to promote economic development will help to create more jobs and revitalize a recovery that’s remained stubbornly slow.

The consensus among local officials who spoke at a recent news conference in Grand Junction was that the Rural Jump-Start Zone program will live up to its billing if Mesa County becomes one of the first counties in Colorado allowed to participate in the new effort to offer tax incentives to businesses that create new jobs.

A decision on Mesa County’s Jump-Start application is expected in mid-January, but two companies are ready to apply to receive tax incentives and four more are expected to do so in 2016, according to Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. That appears like a promising start.

To participate in the program, the core functions of businesses must not compete with existing operations. Businesses also must create a minimum of five net new jobs in the county in which they’re located and establish relationships with an institution of higher learning — in Mesa County, Colorado Mesa University. In return, participating businesses receive an exemption 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. Businesses may receive tax exemptions for up to four years with an option for an additional four years.

The Jump-Start program greatly reduces the tax burden for participating businesses, including startup operations. The program also positions Colorado counties to better compete with states that offer lower taxes and other incentives in recruiting businesses.

Along with efforts to recruit new businesses to Mesa County, though, it’s essential not to neglect efforts to retain existing businesses and help them expand. Growth in small businesses can have collectively large effects. Consider, for example, that the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce honored 30 companies during 2015 for expansions. Those expansions involved a total capital investment of more than $54 million and 328 new jobs. That’s significant.

The chamber will add a position of its own as part of an ongoing effort dubbed Listening to Business. Chamber staff will meet with representatives from various industry sectors as well as individual business owners and managers to identify and address the challenges they face. The goal is to help businesses not only survive, but also thrive.

Economic development constitutes a long-term endeavor with no timetable for results. But efforts to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses eventually will pay off, making the outlook more merry and bright.