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Grants to help Weld Co. students pay for college

Posted at 1:20 AM, Oct 02, 2015

A push is underway to help equip the future workforce of Weld County with skills that are in high demand.

County commissioners have created a program to help students further their education, help businesses find a skilled work force and help taxpayers, all at the same time.

It's called the Weld County Bright Futures Grant Program.

Under the program, which is set up as a workforce development fund, Weld County high school graduates, GED recipients and Honorably Discharged U.S. Veterans, who have lived in Weld County for two of the last 4 years, can receive a $3,000 a year grant to help pay for their college or trade school education.

Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer says there is a big demand for skilled workers in the sprawling, fast-growing county.

"The folks that are in our trades, they're hitting 55 to 60 years of age and are getting ready to retire," she said. "We don't have anyone coming in to fill those jobs."

When asked what kinds of jobs, Kirkmeyer replied, "Engineers, electricians, plumbers, you name it."

She said the grant program will be funded by donations from taxpayers who will receive tax incentive payments or credits for their contribution.

"For every $100 they contribute," she said, "they would receive $50 back in Weld County payments, a nearly $5 state income tax deduction and a $28 federal income tax deduction. So a $100 investment only costs $17.37."

"It's a no-brainer," said business owner Thomas Haren of AGPROfessionals. "My family and I own this building and we pay taxes on it.  If we can save tax money and help students and the business community at the same time, it makes sense... there's no catch."

Haren, who is also chairman of Upstate Colorado Economic Development, told 7NEWS that, "finding a skilled, qualified workforce, when we need hundreds or thousands for new businesses that want to come here, and we need those employees quickly, is a tough challenge."

The County is moving quickly to provide the grant money.

Kirkmeyer said it will be available to high school grads beginning with the class of 2016.

She said she and fellow commissioners feel so strongly about the program, they approved the dedication of $15 million to the fund in 2016.

"It'll help generate $30 million," she said.

Greeley Central High School Senior Adrian Bugarin plans to take advantage of the grant money.

"One of the most important things we need to focus on as seniors," he said, "is how we're going to pay for college, buy books and pay for tuition."

His classmate, Elias VanLoo, said he too is grateful that grant money will be available.

"What I've always loved about Greeley is how diverse our community is," he said. "Unfortunately, along with diversity there is income disparity.  So the fact that we can now take advantage of the opportunity is, I think, phenomenal."

When asked if there is a requirement that students use the grant money in state, or commit to working in Weld County after they graduate, Kirkmeyer said, "No... they can go to any university, whether it's public or private.  They can go to any Jr. College, Community College or Trade School."

The commissioner said there are jobs in Weld County "and what better place to look than close to home."

She acknowledged that some students may go into the field of their choice and move away from Weld County.

"That's okay," she said. "They can go be part of the workforce somewhere in the State of Colorado and be a contributing member of society.  What a great thing to be able to do."

Kirkmeyer said the Bright Futures Program will be a great recruiting tool for the business community in Weld County and will make a strong economy even stronger.

She said the County is in a strong position to be able to help fund the program.

"We shout it from the rooftops quite a bit that we are a county that has no debt whatsoever," she said. "No long term debt, no short term debt.  We don't have a county sales tax.  In fact, this year again, we lowered our mil levy."

Kirkmeyer said she hopes the program lasts in perpetuity.

"I have grandchildren who are 5, 3 and 1.  It is my goal to insure that they're able to take advantage of this program," she said.