Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT)
Working together on a positive path
Business View Magazine interviews Jeff Kraft, Deputy Director, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT)
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) works with statewide partners to create a positive business climate that encourages dynamic economic development and sustainable job growth. OEDIT’s purpose is to advance Colorado’s economy through financial and technical programs under the leadership of the Governor and the department’s Executive Director.
The OEDIT team works hard to grow a resilient economy where everyone not only gets by but thrives. The agency consists of 14 divisions and offices that support various industries, regions, and sectors. The joint mission of these offices and divisions is to achieve and sustain a healthy economy that works for everyone and protect what makes Colorado the best state in the country to live, work, start a business, raise a family, and retire.
Business View spoke with Jeff Kraft, deputy director, of OEDIT, about the current economic landscape in Colorado, programs the agency has initiated, and the outlook for the future.
BVM: What would you say makes Colorado an advantageous location to live and do business?
Kraft: “Colorado is a unique and special place for many reasons. We have one of the most highly-educated workforces in the country, which contributes to a prosperous and diverse economy and with a variety of primary employers in different sectors. Colorado offers a great quality of life with its natural environment, providing lots of outdoor recreation activities to enjoy. Coloradans love to be active and with access to the mountains and the plains and the available activities like cycling, hiking, skiing, rock climbing and more, and these outdoor recreation opportunities attracts a strong workforce. Colorado is a lower cost area compared to many of the country’s coastal areas, and, from an income tax perspective, we have a stable, moderate state tax structure which businesses appreciate. Colorado has a business-friendly reputation and good, common sense government policies at the state level. This contributes to a good regulatory climate.”
BVM: What roles does OEDIT encompass?
Kraft: “OEDIT is a part of the Governor’s Office; an umbrella organization of different offices and agencies that work collectively to promote economic development and economic activity in Colorado. Within our offices, we have the Global Business Development division that responds to request for proposals and works directly with company executives and site selectors to recruit and retain companies and illustrate the value of doing business in Colorado and supports high technology start up companies through the advanced industries grant program.
“We also have a Small Business Support division that runs small business development centers that provide technical assistance across the state. This division examines rural prosperity issues, and operates a minority business office, promotes employee ownership and a cannabis equity program. Colorado prioritizes providing support to small businesses in particular regions and populations that are under resourced.
“My particular division, Business Funding and Incentives, executes and contracts various incentives and tax credits and access to capital programs. This is to support economic recovery but also to advance the success of start-up businesses and places where private capital markets have gaps. We work to fill those with small amounts of public capital.
“Another OEDIT division is the Colorado Office of Film, Television & Media that promotes film production and assists production companies. This work has expanded into e-games, television commercials and documentaries and more.
“The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) is a huge and powerful part of OEDIT. It leads the marketing, management and promotion of the state’s tourism economy and supports destinations across the state. The Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry works closely with the CTO but approaches outdoor recreation from a business perspective. It works to foster environmental stewardship and attract outdoor recreation suppliers and manufacturers.
“Lastly, Colorado Creative Industries division, the state arts agency, promotes and develops the confluence between artists and creative endeavors and economic development. It supports that work with a variety of programs, including low-cost housing for artists to support community revitalization through creative districts.”
BVM: How are you enabling business recovery from the pandemic?
Kraft: “The economic impact of COVID-19 hit Colorado’s urban centers especially hard. For example, downtown Denver is normally an epicenter of business and tourism travel, and normally has tens of thousands of people in town to work and spend money. Denver was hit the most from a revenue perspective. Alternatively, some of our more remote and scenic areas, where people could get out of congested cities, saw tremendous visitation. There was a definite geographic divide. Some of our mountain communities even had increased enrollment in their school districts and banner years in sales tax. Along with that boom, though, there’s been heavy trail usage and all the resources and amenities up there have been squeezed and constrained. We love visitors but with a robust tourism economy brings various issues to work through, like visitor management.
“Colorado tends to skew toward small business more than some other states. As a result, we’ve put a lot of effort in supporting small business access to federal programs and dollars. To support the state’s economic recovery, we work to help households and businesses access safety-net programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance and others to bridge the gap to better times. At the peak of COVID, we did a lot of direct outreach counseling to businesses. We also set up our own programs to provide grants and loans to small businesses that cannot access traditional lenders. One program in particular was called the Energize Colorado Gap Fund. We also launched a series of artist relief programs, as the creative industries sector was hit really hard. The Film Office even pivoted to give grants to rural theaters when they were shut down to help them remain in business.
“Every person at OEDIT participated in promoting, supporting or building programs to provide relief and recovery. And, we continue to do that with new programs that are on the horizon. One new program that is about to launch is one to provide capital to businesses to start up or re-start.”
BVM: Are rural communities an important focus, as well?
Kraft: “Absolutely. We have a series of business support programs that focus on economic development in rural Colorado. We received grants from the Federal Economic Development Administration to administer rural road mapping, planning and capacity building. A key topic in rural communities right now is, how do you build diversity and resiliency? Since the 1980s, the Front Range of Colorado – Denver and its urban core – has focused on not being subject to a single industry. But our state’s rural areas are often dependent on a single industry, like tourism, agriculture or even extractive industries, like coal. So, our rural road mapping programs collaborate with communities to plan for a more diverse economic base, so a place is not vulnerable to a downturn in any single sector. This work is often done in coordination with state partners at the Department of Local Affairs or the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
“Another innovative program that targets rural Colorado is called Rural Jump Start. It allows businesses that export goods or services out of their local county–and have a novel business idea that doesn’t compete with a nearby distressed county–to get small cash grants to cover business expenses. It also includes tax advantages to help these businesses grow over time. We’re excited about and proud of this program. Also, some of our access-to-capital programs, like the Start-up Loan Fund, specifically serve rural communities to help them start new businesses and hire new employees. We’re definitely focused on adding vitality and diversity to our rural economies.”
BVM: Looking to the next five years, how do you see the economic landscape changing in Colorado, and what are OEDIT’s goals?
Kraft: “We want to upskill our workforce and ensure Colorado has plenty of middle-skill jobs, and jobs that can support people living healthy and financially secure lives. Also, we want to continue to diversify our economy geographically to make sure there are lots of different industry sectors to support each of region in Colorado. We need to expand our transition toward renewable energy and implement some new technologies to help with sustainability. And, of course, we’re really interested in getting through the deficit of housing units, and start building more inventory in dense, sustainable ways across the entire state. Those are all really important issues to us.
“I think we’re on a really positive path. Colorado is on the right side of economic history, in terms of having a really diverse, strong, high-tech economic base that we can continue to build on.”
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AT A GLANCE
Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT)
What: Government organization that advances the state’s economy through financial & technical programs
Where: Based in Denver, Colorado