Supporting Rural Economic Development: Polis Administration Provides Grants to Support Business Development and Job Creation in Meeker and Yampa

Governor Polis, the Office of Just Transition (OJT) within the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment, and the Office of Economic Development & International Trade (OEDIT) have partnered to fund pivotal economic development projects in Meeker and Yampa, Colorado. These Coal Transition Community grants are intended to support economic diversification and workforce development activities in communities whose economies have traditionally relied on the coal industry. 

“As the economy moves away from the high cost of coal power, Colorado is helping local communities diversify their economies and creating new opportunities for their residents to be successful. The Coal Transition Community Grant provides funding for local projects that create new jobs, help local businesses grow, and develop the economy. I am thrilled to announce two new grant recipients, Pioneer Medical Center in Meeker and The Business Support Program in Yampa, working to help communities thrive,” said Governor Polis. 

“These grants reflect the state’s commitment to support the economic needs and priorities of coal transition communities and the collaborative efforts between state and local partners to diversify the economies of Northwest Colorado,” said OJT Director Wade Buchanan. “The funds awarded to Meeker and Yampa will help them expand local business, create new good-paying jobs, and diversify their economies—all of which will help them weather the transition away from coal as an economic driver.” 

Both grants will support the implementation of locally-developed plans to diversify and grow the local economies in Yampa and Meeker while improving access to restaurant and food services as well as healthcare. 

“The towns of Meeker and Yampa have put together visions for their futures that will grow local business and create jobs, and we’re pleased to support those efforts. This type of localized approach to economic development is key to building a Colorado economy that works for everyone,” said OEDIT Executive Director, Eve Lieberman.

A $600,000 grant awarded to Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker will fund the implementation of a new electronic medical health record system, which has been identified as the first step to expand healthcare services and support long-term plans to develop medical tourism. In partnership with the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Pioneers Medical Center estimates that the conversion will directly create six new jobs and indirectly support the creation of 31 new jobs, with the potential for further job creation as healthcare services expand.

“We are thrilled to have received these funds, which will enable us to establish the foundation of our new electronic health records system, positioning us well for growth in the future. Since 2020, we have seen an average of 60% of orthopedic patients and 26% of hospital patients coming from outside Meeker. Given the decline of energy jobs, Meeker's Just Transition Strategy has shifted its focus towards travel, tourism, and medical tourism as new sources of income,” said Liz Sellers, CEO of Pioneers Medical Center. “With the hospital’s three-year expansion plan, we aim to create jobs and make a positive economic impact for the future, establishing Meeker as the go-to destination for orthopedic specialty care. We are grateful for the support of the Norwest Colorado Development Council, OJT, and OEDIT in supporting the growth and economic efforts of our rural, critical-access hospital.”

A $105,000 grant will support the implementation of a business support program developed by the Town of Yampa, which will purchase new and upgraded equipment for local businesses and fund the installation of highway wayfinding signs to attract more visitors to downtown Yampa. As a result, Montgomery’s General Store will be able to expand refrigeration and cooling, display areas, and sales. Yampa Garage Eatery will start a full-service restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“As the State Senator for Yampa, Meeker, and the entire Northwest Colorado region and as a legislator who has sponsored bills to fund the Office of Just Transition's work, I am thrilled to see these communities receive this well-deserved support,” said Colorado Senator Dylan Roberts. “As our region continues to grapple with the economic and social impacts of the energy transition, strengthening existing assets like our great hospitals and helping small communities bolster and diversify their business community is so important. I am excited to see the positive impact of these investments and look forward to supporting similar efforts across the region in the months and years ahead."

“I’m pleased to see this type of investment in rural Western Colorado communities,” said State Senator Perry Will. "These grants will help Meeker and Yampa put their visions for the future into action, improving healthcare services and growing local business communities while preserving our Western Colorado heritage.”

“Our coal transitioning communities are so essential to our economy and culture in Northwest Colorado, and the Coal Transition Community grants will be a tremendous benefit to our businesses and working families,” said Colorado Rep. Meghan Lukens. “I am appreciative of the collaborative partnerships between community leaders, local businesses and state agencies to support our diversifying economies.”

The Yampa Business Support Program grew out of a comprehensive economic development plan also completed with funding support from the Office of Just Transition, which resulted in a comprehensive plan to guide decision making over the next 10-20 years. This planning process was intended to ensure that private development, public infrastructure, and community amenities and services meet the community’s needs.  

“The Town of Yampa has been working with the community to support our local downtown businesses. With funding from the state and our local economic development partners, we are making strides toward having a more vital community,” said Yampa Town Planner and Treasurer Mary Alice Page-Allen, who is enthusiastic about the Town of Yampa’s progress. “As a result of these projects, Yampa will have a new year-round restaurant where we had only a single seasonal option and expand the space and variety of goods at our local grocery store/mercantile. We will also initiate our signage plan, so travelers and tourists rolling past on State Highway 131, a block away from our historic downtown, know what we have to offer.”

The Coal Transition Community Grant grew out of Colorado’s Just Transition Action Plan finalized in 2020, which outlines steps the State of Colorado plans to take to help communities that have relied on coal mines and coal-fired power plants for employment find new sources of property tax income and jobs. Between OJT and OEDIT, approximately $9.62 million in funding has been allocated for Coal Transition Community Grants during this phase of funding.

OJT and OEDIT are encouraging proposals for pivotal economic development activities and strategies from other coal transition communities. In addition to the Yampa Valley counties of Rio Blanco, Moffat, and Routt, funding is available to the West End of Montrose (towns of Nucla, Naturita, and Norwood), Pueblo County, and Fort Morgan County, as well as Delta, El Paso, Gunnison, La Plata and Larimer counties.

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