Tourism gets huge boost

Owens signs bill raising state's promo budget to $19 million

Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill giving the state's tourism office a fourfold increase in advertising dollars, ranking Colorado among the top 10 states in terms of how much it can spend to entice visitors.

The long-sought legislation was part of a sweeping $26.5 million economic development package that includes $19 million for tourism, as well as money for the arts and financial incentives for companies that bring jobs to the state.

"In every case, we will make more in tax revenue than we spend for these incentives," Owens told the Rocky Mountain News after signing a half-dozen bills into law at a ceremony outside the World Trade Center along the 16th Street Mall.

Colorado will jump to around seventh among states in tourism ad dollars, up from 35th.

Most of the ad money will come from state gaming tax revenues that otherwise would have gone into Colorado's general fund.

The biggest chunk of money included in the package goes to the state's tourism office, which took a huge budget hit when Colorado voters declined to renew a tourism tax in the early 1990s.

Lawmakers, including Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, tried for years to persuade fellow legislators to earmark more money for tourism promotion.

Tourism proponents linked this year's breakthrough to the passage of Referendum C, which allows the state to keep tax dollars for the next five years that it otherwise would have to refund to taxpayers.

"It's because of Referendum C" that the bill passed this time around, said Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, who serves on board of the Colorado Tourism Office.

Colorado's $19 million for tourism would likely come in just behind much-visited Florida, whose budget recently stood at $20.7 million, according the Travel Industry Association of America.

This year's budget of $5.5 million put Colorado 35th, a ranking officials have linked to the state's difficulty with attracting tourists.

Brian Vogt, the state's economic development director, said he expects to see immediate results from its increased tourism spending.

"In short order, it's going to refill the state's coffers," Vogt said.

The package also includes $3 million for companies that create jobs in the state and $2 million to help speed the commercialization of bioscience technologies.

It includes $1.5 million for promoting the arts and $500,000 the state can use to entice filmmakers to produce movies here.

Intel spokeswoman Judy Cara told the large crowd that the economic incentives for jobs represent "a huge step toward Colorado being economically competitive."

On the biotech front, the $2 million in matching funds will likely boost the number of biotech companies by about 20 in the next five years, said Richard Duke, founder of GlobeImmune, which itself was launched with a $100,000 grant.

The Colorado State Fair, which has struggled financially in recent years, will get $550,000 annually and will receive a one-time chunk of money that allows it to pay off its debt.

"This was getting to be a situation we couldn't live with," Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament said of the debt the state fair had acquired from building a new events center and taking out loans to finance its operations.

Reprinted with permission from the Rocky Mountain News.
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