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Region 9 finds hope for Montezuma economy in tax credits

Unemployment is high, per capita income is low
Courtney Sikes and her two children, Marin and Maddie Quay Sikes, attended the Montezuma County Health Department open house in April. According to the latest Region 9 economic report, health services employ about 13 percent of the county’s workforce.

A Region 9 analyst focused on an upside of the county’s “distressed” economy during a recent report to the Cortez City Council: Tax help is available.

Laura Lewis Marchino, executive director of Region 9 Economic Development District, presented the report to the city council and the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association on May 9. She highlighted the district’s accomplishments in the past two years, such as joining the Rural Jump-Start program and bringing 15 new businesses to the area.

The District 9 report itself, which includes data gathered through 2015, showed that Montezuma County had the highest unemployment rate and the lowest per capita income in the district, which consists of Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties.

In 2015, according to the report, the Montezuma County unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, higher than both the state and national averages. Dolores had the lowest unemployment rate, at 3.1 percent, and San Juan had the second-highest rate, at 4.1 percent.

The average per capita income in Montezuma County was $38,393, about 86 percent of the national average. La Plata County had the highest average income, at $51,475, more than 100 percent of the national average. The second-lowest income level came from Archuleta County, which reported about $40,307 per capita.

Montezuma County again was listed as an Enterprise Zone this year, which means that it’s a “distressed” area by Region 9’s standards and is eligible for tax incentives for new businesses. Marchino said she also expects the county’s recent entry into Rural Jump-Start to bring in more employers.

“If you are a unique business that does not compete with any other business in Colorado, and you relocate into a Jump-Start county, you get four years tax-free,” Marchino said. “The idea is, you weren’t there to start with, so it’s not like the government really lost money.”

She also said businesses may increase their tax-free status to eight years by fulfilling certain qualifications. As it stands now, the tax benefit doesn’t include city-specific taxes such as Cortez’s sales tax, but Marchino said town governments may be able to change that.

The Cortez council will hold further discussion on the Rural Jump-Start program during its public workshop on Tuesday.

According to Marchino, Montezuma County’s economy barely qualified for Enterprise Zone assistance this year. Some areas within the county, such as Mancos, didn’t.

She also highlighted some Region 9 accomplishments, such as bringing about 15 start-up businesses to the area as part of its Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, which she said created about 50 jobs.

The Region 9 report relied on data from the Colorado State Demography Office, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, among other sources. In addition to information about each county’s employment and income, it also listed population statistics and the top employers. Montezuma County showed slow population growth, about 0.5 percent annually from 2010 to 2015. Most of that growth occurred in Mancos. The other counties in Region 9 appear to be growing faster, with the exception of San Juan, which showed none at all. The most dramatic example was Archuleta County – its population grew by 8.5 percent annually during the five-year period, making it the fifth-fastest-growing county in Colorado.

Montezuma’s biggest employers, according to the report, were the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 school district, the Ute Mountain Casino and Southwest Memorial Hospital. About 33 percent of employees in the county work in the service sector, which includes education, health services, accommodation and food. About 23 percent work in government. The industries that brought in the most money from outside the county included agriculture and regional services such as construction. Households with members employed elsewhere were responsible for the most outside cash, at 36 percent.

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