Official offers ways to spark area business growth

— Bob Lee from the governor's office affirmed his support for small businesses and encouraged growth in already existing businesses in rural Colorado.

The phase "grow our own" peppered the talk Lee gave at Economic Summit 2002 Thursday morning as he described state programs that could benefit small-business owners in rural areas.

Lee, who is the director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said more jobs come from small businesses than any other sector in the economy and 80 percent of all future jobs in Colorado will come from companies that are already in the state.

"We want to provide job training and money to companies that are already here," Lee said.

As head of the department, Lee oversees the state's domestic and international business development, Tourism Office, small business programs and Motion Picture and Television Commission.

During his speech, Lee highlighted three programs rural businesses could access for state funds and tools.

One program is the state's Revolving Loan Fund, which is designed to promote economic development at the local level through loans and loan guarantees to businesses. The program is divided into 16 regions, which individually approve loans to businesses they feel would have the most economic benefit to the community.

And Lee said the program is continuous as businesses pay back loans and the regional programs issue new ones.

"Businesses can use (the low-interest loans) any way they want. And they generate more jobs and more new businesses," Lee said.

Creating Enterprise Zones was also a way businesses could receive state funding, Lee said. Enterprise Zones offer tax credits and incentives to encourage more jobs and private investment in economically distressed areas of the state.

The city's plan to renovate the Howelsen Hill ski jumps was recently designated as an Enterprise Zone and contribution to the Colorado Ski Heritage Project means a 25 percent tax credit.

During his talk, Lee noted Howelsen Hill was an Enterprise Zone and strongly stated the governor's support for Steamboat's effort to upgrade the jumps to plastic.

"We will knock on every door and ring every bell to help you put plastic on the jumps. It is not only important to Rout County, it is important to the state of Colorado as an Olympic training ground," Lee said.

Lee also listed the Certified Capital Company Program, which makes venture capital funds available to new or expanding small businesses, as another tool local businesses could tap. Known as CAPCO, the program is intended to create new employment opportunities and stimulate growth in Colorado.

Of the $100 million Colorado is issuing for business investment for 2002, Lee said $25 million is mandated to be spent in rural areas. The state will put out another $100 million in 2004.

Regardless of the program, companies and communities need to create plans for bringing businesses into the area and creating new jobs, Lee said. He also said they need to be active in reaching government officials for help.

"Call on them, beat on them and tell them to bring money to your company," Lee said.

Overseeing the Motion Picture and Television Commission, Lee also strongly endorsed communities to attract filming crews to come to their areas for commercials.

"This is the kind of money we want. They drop several hundred thousand dollars, hire a bunch of local folks then pick up and go home," Lee said. "It is wonderful money, creates a lot of jobs and hopefully we will see more of that in coming years."

But Lee noted Colorado has tough competition with Canada, which offers huge tax breaks for producers to come to the country. And subsidizing rich Hollywood producers, Lee said, is something that would be a hard sell to the general public.

In the past few years, international companies like Nike and Sprint have filmed in Steamboat.

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