Garfield County seeking economic development distinction
Garfield County, along with Mesa, Rio Blanco and other counties that are part of the federal Economic Development Administration Region 11, hope to join other Colorado regions in becoming an economic development district.
The proposal is outlined in an application submitted to the EDA. The federal distinction would allow the region to fully tap into federal resources now available to Eagle and Summit counties, as various other regions throughout Colorado.
Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado Executive Director Bonnie Petersen explained the AGNC received funding and a matching grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs allowing the creation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. The CEDS was submitted to the EDA before the end of last year and is currently under review.
If successful, becoming an economic development district (EDD) will provide the region with a wide range of economic opportunities.
Economic Development Colorado representative Trent Thompson said the benefits of becoming an EDD can provide economic diversification and growth for the entire region.
He explained that neighboring Region 10, which includes Delta, Montrose and other western Colorado counties, applied for a public works grant to help with equipment costs for a broadband infrastructure project.
The project will help bring a broadband network to provide stronger and faster internet to the region.
In its pursuit to make the northwest Colorado region an EDD, the AGNC decided to approach the application as a five-county partnership with Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt, all apart of the Region 11.
Petersen said one of the reasons the region is not an EDD already is that a certain level of economic distress must be demonstrated.
Part of the AGNC’s case for Region 11 is that “the region had historically been unable to meet the economic distress criteria due to higher wages earned around the region by employees in the energy sector,” according to the CEDS application.
The loss of jobs in several economic sectors, including coal, oil and gas, and construction has taken its toll on the region, the proposal states.
In its assessment of Garfield County, the AGNC said the county had one of the strongest economies in the region, but “is overly dependent on the extractive industry for its tax base.”
It also says the Rifle area has some of the highest unemployment within the region.
AGNC hopes that, by becoming an EDD, it will help to promote a regional, diverse, resilient and robust economy, fostering a range of industries, employment and resources, resulting in prosperous communities for today and tomorrow’s residents.
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Garfield County is seeking to qualify its four west-end communities for Colorado’s Rural Jump Start program, providing tax breaks for new businesses.