State Sen. Dylan Roberts pitches bill to help communities moving away from coal-based economies

Sen. Dylan Roberts
Courtesy photo

In one of the first bills introduced this legislative session, state Sen. Dylan Roberts aims to support economic development in Colorado’s rural communities transitioning away from coal-based economies. 

The bill, which is being co-sponsored by Republican state Sen. Janice Rich from Grand Junction and has bipartisan support, would formally create the Rural Opportunity Office within the Economic Development and International Trade Office.

If the bill passes, the Rural Opportunity Office would be tasked with serving as the central coordinator for rural economic development, supporting communities transitioning away from coal-based economies and making recommendations to help economic development policy affecting rural communities. 

“Rural communities like those I represent are crucial to Colorado’s economy and character,” Roberts said in a statement. “To ensure we’re building a Colorado where everyone can thrive, we must be proactive in our work to support rural economic development.”

Over the phone, Roberts said on Tuesday, Jan. 17, that there have been numerous programs, tax credits, grants and opportunities for rural communities over the last several years, but based on what he’s heard from communities such as Craig, Hayden and South Routt County, there have been struggles trying to navigate those resources. 

The purpose of the Rural Opportunity Office would be to help communities pull together those resources and expedite initiatives.

The bill includes specific language for coal communities that the Rural Opportunity Office needs to work with immediately and consistently to help with the unique needs in each community. 

Roberts credited Moffat County commissioners and local officials for making him aware of this need. Moffat County officials have been working to attract larger employers to the area to try to maintain the local job force and economy, and working with an organization like the Rural Opportunity Office might help to put together an attractive package for prospective companies utilizing the available resources. 

“By creating a ‘one-stop shop’ for our small towns in the Rural Opportunity Office, we will be able to provide the expertise to meet our rural economies’ unique needs and help communities take advantage of state, federal and nonprofit opportunities to promote, diversify and expand economic opportunity,” Roberts said. “From Craig to Granby, Sterling to Cortez and everywhere in between, the Rural Opportunity Office will be a vital resource for rural Colorado.”

According to a news release, the Economic Development and International Trade Office began working to boost rural economies through supportive development strategies in 2019. In the years since, the staff has expanded services to assist tribal nations in their economic development through grant writing support, education campaigns and technical assistance.

Roberts said that he anticipates the Rural Opportunity Office would have three full-time staff, and the staff should be based on the Western Slope and in the rural communities being served.

If signed by Gov. Jared Polis, the new legislation would take effect in August.

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