Colorado Office of Economic Development readies several business assistance programs

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade has gone from having its funding on the chopping block this spring to being asked to help distribute tens of millions of dollars to businesses at risk of failing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“OEDIT is working with the state budget office and DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) to figure out the parameters on how we can get this money out as quickly as possible,” Betsy Markey, OEDIT’s executive director, told the Colorado Economic Development Commission on Thursday morning.

In May, the Joint Budget Committee proposed cutting 27% from OEDIT’s upcoming budget. Now the state will ask the Colorado legislature, when it returns for its normal session in January, to provide an extra $10 million into the state’s Advanced Industries Accelerator grant program and another $15 million into the Strategic Fund, Markey said.

In a special session Gov. Jared Polis has called for after Thanksgiving, the legislature will look at roughly $220 million in stimulus programs, a large share of which will go to help struggling businesses. Markey said OEDIT will have a role in distributing those funds, which are designed to serve as a stopgap given the lack of additional federal assistance.

The commission on Thursday also approved awards out of what it had left in the state’s Strategic Fund, a pool of money that is usually used to recruit businesses to the state.

The EDC authorized $500,000 for the state’s Winter Outdoor Dining Fund, which is raising $5 million to help restaurants cover the costs of adding outdoor dining capacity, which will be needed to survive the prohibition on indoor dining in counties under Level Red.

The fund awards grants of $10,000 per restaurant and is seeing strong demand, said Danielle Oliveto, Polis’ deputy chief of staff.

“We pushed hard to have winter dining be available when counties move to red,” Oliveto said. Fifteen counties are implementing that status on Friday. But if they go to purple, even outdoor dining won’t be allowed.

The commission also approved $200,000 from the Strategic Fund for the Rural Theater Grant program, joining the Gates, El Pomar and Boettcher foundations, which have agreed to provide another $50,000 each. The grants of up to $12,500 each are intended to help independent theaters in rural areas cover basic costs like insurance and utility bills and survive through the winter.

Kelly Baug, Colorado’s deputy film commissioner, said the theaters are important cultural landmarks in many rural communities and serve as a gathering place for a variety of events. And while Hollywood isn’t producing much content, the hope is the grants will allow buildings to remain operable until restrictions lift.

The commission approved a request to set aside $2 million from the Strategic Fund to guarantee loans made through the Colorado Energy Office, which is looking to create a Colorado Green Bank. That set aside is needed so the office can apply for $5 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That money will finance energy efficiency improvements at commercial buildings around the state, with a focus on using displaced coal industry workers to do the renovations.

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