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May 29, 2024

Governor Signs Bills to Boost Rural Economies

WESTERN SLOPE – Governor Jared Polis today signed into law three bills to create jobs and boost Colorado’s rural economies.

Sponsored by Representatives Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, and Rick Taggart, R-Grand Junction, and Senators Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, HB24-1001 extends income tax credits and grants available to businesses and their employees through the Rural Jump-Start Program, aiming to reduce the cost of starting a new business or hiring employees in rural economic jump-start zones.

“With these bills being signed into law today, we're bringing real results to the Western Slope,” said Lukens, sponsor of HB24-1001, HB24-1237 and SB24-190. “The Rural Jump-Start Program has supported numerous small businesses and created new jobs for rural Coloradans in communities like mine, and I’m proud that this bipartisan law will extend the program. We also passed a law that will support an expanded rail system from Steamboat Springs to Hayden to Craig to address issues that are most impacting rural and rural resort communities, like housing supply and workforce shortages. Finally, I'm proud that my bipartisan legislation to boost child care options for Colorado families is now law, making it easier for parents to find quality child care so they can get back into the workforce and keep our economies thriving.”

“Today marks a transformative win-win for Northwest Colorado,” said Roberts, sponsor of HB24-1001 and SB24-190. “As the region’s State Senator, prioritizing economic opportunity and resources for these communities is a top priority. From continuing the successful Rural Jump-Start program to creating new financial incentives to attract large employers to Craig, Hayden, and Grand County, to building passenger rail from Craig all the way to Denver, we are setting Colorado’s rural economies up for success. The policies signed into law today direct crucial resources to communities to enable businesses to open their doors, hire employees, grow their operations, and thrive.”

Rural economic jump-start zone are areas within a county with a population less than 250,000 that exhibits certain indicators of economic distress, such as lower per capita income than the state average, lower gross domestic product than the state average, unemployment levels higher than the statewide average, a declining workforce, or a higher concentration of students eligible for free lunch compared to the statewide average.

Governor Polis also signed SB24-190, which makes the design and use of mountain passenger rail more sustainable by incentivizing the transportation of freight from companies that establish operations in coal transition communities along the potential rail line, particularly Craig and Hayden. Sponsored by Senator Roberts, Representative Lukens, and Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, the new law allocates up to $10 million in incentives per year for Hayden and Craig, and Grand, Moffat, and Routt Counties to attract and retain large-scale businesses utilizing freight rail.

“From new job opportunities to more transportation options, our Western Slope communities will greatly benefit from this new law,” said McCluskie. “In addition to our Front Range passenger rail legislation, this law will bring our mountain and rural communities closer to an expanded rail system for transit and goods. We’re supporting the Western Slope, especially those in coal transition communities, to boost the economic security of our mountain and rural resort towns.”

The proposed mountain line connects Denver to Winter Park, Steamboat Springs, Hayden, and Craig and allows for commuter transit between the towns. However, continued freight use of the rail line is key to the financial viability of passenger rail service. Bringing new businesses into Northwest Colorado will expand economic development, create new jobs in the area, and provide essential support for the rail line.

SB24-190 creates an income tax credit through the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade (OEDIT) for businesses that choose to locate in a coal transition community and use rail to transport their freight. It also makes more of the region eligible for economic support from OEDIT, creating opportunities for economic diversification in the region and offering needed support for mountain rail development. Potential mountain rail would also facilitate increased tourism in the region, create additional economic growth, and allow locals to commute safely to and from Winter Park to Craig, with stops in between. 

Finally, the Governor signed HB24-1237, sponsored by Representatives Lukens, and Mary Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, and Senators Janice Marchman, D-Loveland, and Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, which helps reduce costs for developing child care facilities by providing technical planning, building, construction, and development support.

“I’m proud to see our bipartisan legislation to increase affordable child care options signed into law today,” said Marchman. “Quality, affordable child care is essential to support Colorado’s workforce, and by providing funding to develop new and convert existing spaces into childcare centers, we can offer more options to Colorado families.”

The new law creates the framework to provide planning and capital grants, as well as technical support for local governments, institutions of higher education, public schools, employers, private partners, builders, and child care providers.

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