Enterprise Zone offers tax credits, resources

John Scarffe, Central City.  The Central City Council Chambers jammed with Gilpin and Clear Creek county residents on Wednesday, May 3, from 10 am.to 2 p.m. They came to hear representatives of the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) present opportunities and resources available to them as members of the Colorado Northwest Enterprise Zone.


The boundaries of the Enterprise Zone have been redrawn to include Gilpin County and Central City. Bonnie Petersen, executive director of AGNC said the organization covers five northwest counties of Colorado Mesa, Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Routt. The mission of AGNC is to communicate with, inform and reflect the needs of its members and promote the values, industries and economies of Northwest Colorado.


Petersen said that today they were in Central City to talk about the Northwest Enterprise Zone. AGNC serves as the administrator for the Northwest Enterprise Zone, which includes Clear Creek, Garfield, Gilpin, Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt Counties.


The Enterprise Zone program was established by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to provide tax credits for businesses that locate to or expand in designated economically distressed parts of the state.


Petersen told the crowd that Ray Rears, Central City community development director & historic preservation officer, had the audacity to call us and say we’d like to be part of an enterprise zone. AGNC representatives then went to the state Economic Development Commission and asked if they would adjust boundaries to include Central City and unincorporated Gilpin County, and the Commission agreed, because the area met the qualifications of a disadvantaged area.


Then they talked to Rears about how they can help businesses and help diversify the economy here in this beautiful place, Petersen said. Rears has been working with the Central City Council and the Gilpin County Board of Commissioners since November 2016 to gain their support to join the Enterprise Zone.
At the April 25 Commission meeting, the Board signed an Intergovernmental Agreement between Gilpin County and the Northwest Enterprise Zone for the County to take advantage of the certification of corporate and contribution pass-through tax credits or similar type programs. Central City agreed to the full cost of $2,000 to be included in the zone, and the County will take on $1,000.


Central City Mayor Kathy Heider and all three Gilpin County Commissioners, Ron Engels, Linda Isenhart and Gail Watson, attended the May 3 meeting. Clear Creek County Manager Keith Montag represented that county, which has been in the program previously.


Rears thanked those in attendance for the great turnout and said gaming has been the City’s life blood for the past few years. Now they are looking at uses other than gaming to diversify the economy, such as arts and entertainment, which should be part of the overall picture here.


Petersen introduced Meredith Marshal, senior regional economic development manager, who travels all over the state. Marshal presented Blueprint 2.0, at www.choosecolorado.com/blueprint, which assists in better leveraging the resources of economic development to support local efforts.


The program offers 10 different initiatives. Marshal met with local leaders in 14 regions throughout the state to strategize around needs and opportunities. They identified the top areas of need, and that produced a list. Then they did a significant amount of research to identify what worked and what didn’t work. Some were taken off the table and others added.


The first initiative is tourism promotion and development. They set up each community needing assistance with a mentor from another community that has accomplished meeting a need. For example, Delta County has already experienced a 500 percent increase in awareness through social media, which is amazing early success, Marshal said. Through this initiative, communities receive up to 100 hours of individualized consulting assistance with a mentor and at least one, in-person site visit from the mentor, resulting in creation of a plan for development or promotion of a region or destination.


Initiative two, Coworking 101, provides a space for businesses to come together and bounce ideas off each other to help communities lay plans for development. Initiative three, Community Placemaking, helps a community decide who they are and what people find attractive in their community. Then they expand on who they are, Marshal said.


Many communities are missing the middle area of people who are earning the highest income, Marshal said. They should be trying to attract them with walkability, culture, vibrancy and activity in the downtown area.


Tiny Homes workshop, initiative four, is a small effort toward assisting with housing issues, which have been heard across the state. With initiative five, grow your outdoor recreation industry, OEDIT partners with the University of Colorado-Boulder’s MBA Program to help grow a town’s outdoor recreation industry.


The Leeds Outdoor Industry Club will be assigning a team to work with each community to better understand their resources, strengths and weaknesses, according to the Blueprint website. Further, they will work with communities to identify opportunities in the growing Colorado outdoor recreation landscape and assist in positioning towns in the “marketplace” to improve reach and impact.


Initiative six, certified small business community, invests in small businesses and provides technical resources to increase the level of activity. With brand building for communities, initiative seven, Colorado’s Chief Marketing Officer along with Development Councilors International offer brand building for communities to assist them in developing a concise and distinctive brand, according to the website.


OEDIT will conduct community interviews and surveys to identify value proposition, brand promise and key messaging, the results of which will be presented to communities in a one-day workshop, which will create the framework for a marketing plan. Access will then be provided to OEDIT’s in-house graphic artist for initial ideas on logo development.


The film and major production initiative assists with the shooting of several main film productions and smaller ones in Colorado. It helps set them up and brings out film crews, Marshal said. The state director worked in Hollywood, and they want new and exciting places to shoot.


The Creativity Lab of Colorado brings in experts to a community and starts them on the right path. It is a collection of collaborative capabilities centered on creativity, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.


The need to access to data for developing strategies and plans drives the tenth initiative, a data driven approach to economic development. Resources are available in the OIDIT office to construct a strong development plan and how to you use the resources effectively, Marshal said. Individuals or businesses should work with the local development organization, in this case Ray Rears, to complete applications, which are due on June 2.


Clear Creek County Manager Keith Montag said he has just hired Lindsay Valdez to lead the County’s Economic Development Council, which is a separate corporation with 10 or 11 members on the board. The County was just hit with the news that a molybdenum mine in the county is shutting down, so they are in situation where they need to find other revenue sources.


They visited with OEDIT, and as a result, they were a pilot project assisting the county with a mini blue print plan. They identified a number of different initiatives with low hanging fruit and big rocks in the process, Montag said.


“I can’t say enough good thinks about OEDIT. We talked to the governor about the success we had, and we had fun. The outcomes were good, and we are continuing to implement the strategies as resources and money become available, Montag said.”


Now the County is talking to recreation components and the U.S. Forest Service to create a recreation management plan, Montag said. Mt. Evans and Guanella Pass are being overrun, so they have to come up with a plan. They also received a $100,000 grant and are putting together an economic development implementation plan, Montag said.


Marshal said Clear Creek has a very strong team, and there is no cost for the program.


Bonnie Petersen said the Enterprise Zone offers tax credits to help businesses, and it starts with elected officials. “It’s not like we’re going to give you $5,000, but it could be the bump that helps you stay in business.”


Enterprise Zone Project Manager Sonja Guram gave an overview of a new incentive Gilpin County has access to for income tax credits through the choosecolorado.com website. Businesses investing in Enterprise Zones through business personal property can earn a 3 percent tax credit. Companies that implement a qualified job-training program for their enterprise zone employees may earn an income tax credit of 12 percent of their eligible training costs, according to the website.


New Employee Credits are available for businesses increasing their workforce, which may earn a state income tax credit of $1,100 per net new employee. An additional tax credit of $500 per net new employee may be claimed by businesses adding value to agricultural commodities through manufacturing or processing, according to the website.


Employer offered health insurance offers businesses $1,000 per net new employee insured under a qualified health plan for which the employer pays at least 50 percent of the cost. This credit is available for the first two years the business is located in an enterprise zone. Businesses conducting research and development may earn a 3 percent tax credit on the increase in such expenditures as compared to that of the prior two years.


Vacant Commercial Building Rehabilitation encourages redevelopment of vacant commercial property with a 25 percent credit for the cost of rehabilitation of a building that is at least 20 years old and has been completely vacant for at least two years. The credit is limited to $50,000 per building.
Guram said that businesses must pre-certify to get these tax credits, so encourage businesses to go online and complete an application before earning a tax credit.


Allison Trujillo, area specialist for the State Office of Rural Development, introduced programs they have that can help rural communities, including assistance for broadband and buildings. Information about their programs can be found at https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services.


Trujillo said they work in rural communities and have available Community Facilities Direct Loans and Grants for communities with a population of 20,000 or less for essential facilities, such as schools, hospitals or town halls.


They also have a Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program and grants and loans for affordable housing and businesses. “We definitely have loan funds that can help restore the Belvidere Theater and the Central City Opera House heating,” Trujillo said.


They require a preliminary architectural report and then an environmental report. Once a nonprofit has those two components, they can turn around an application in 30 to 45 days. They also have a grant program for broadband and just completed a project in the San Luis Valley.


Ken Jensen, OEDIT program manager for historic preservation, said a commercial tax credit program is available for owners or lessees of historically listed buildings, which can receive a 20 to 30 percent tax credit.


Since Central City is an historic district, most buildings are eligible. “If you qualify, this is a first-come, first-served program. There is money available and you are in the program,” Jensen said. To learn more visit http://www.historycolorado.org/grants/preservation-tax-credits


The workshop ended with Ray Rears giving attendees a tour of the Belvidere Theater, which has just completed Phase I renovations. Renovations of the historic theater, located next to the Central City Hall, are expected to cost $2.7 million.


(Originally published in the May 11, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)