On the Money

Colorado economy: Low unemployment, high pot sales

Colorado growth
Colorado growth

Colorado has the highest average elevation of any state, but it also has the lowest unemployment rate.

While the national unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent in May, the lowest since 2001, Colorado's jobless rate is the nation's lowest at 2.3 percent.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says his booming economy is the result of efforts to make the Centennial State more "pro-business." He adds his state has "one of the lowest business income tax levels at just a little over 4.6 percent."

"We worked very hard to reduce red tape, to try to attract young entrepreneurs."

In an interview with CNBC's "On The Money," Hickenlooper said, "More than anything we wanted Colorado to think of itself as a place, not just for outdoor recreation, but a place to go and start a business. "

The governor says one of the growing industries in Colorado is clean energy. "We have over 2,000 companies that do either renewable energy or clean tech."

While last week President Donald Trump announced the U.S. will leave the Paris climate accord, Hickenlooper called it "a serious mistake on several levels."

"In the short term," he tells CNBC, "more than 60, 000 employees" work in the clean energy sector in his state. "If that begins to contract or kind of be squelched, that's obviously not good for Colorado."

Globally, Hickenlooper says Trump's decision " leaves a vacuum."

"We have always been the world leader in, not just business, but all kinds of issues. "

And with this move, he says other countries, "China, or India, or the European Union or others are going to fill in that leadership role. Our strongest allies are bitterly disappointed, and I think that will hurt our business over the long term. "

Pot Power

Since becoming the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, that industry has been growing like the plant itself.

That year, Hickenlooper was opposed to the measure, but it passed by a 55 percent to 45 percent vote.

Last year, the state took in $198.5 million in tax revenue from in-state marijuana sales of $1.3 billion. That's up from $699.2 million in sales in 2014 and $996.2 million in 2015 sales.

Hickenlooper says it's "too soon to know" if there's a downside to drug legalization. "We don't see more people doing more marijuana in Colorado after legalization. It's through a regulated process now."

"But we haven't seen a big spike in teenage consumption, we haven't seen a big spike in any consumption."

He stressed the need to keep the size of the marijuana business in perspective.

"We have a $28 billion state budget overall, and $200 million is just a drop in the bucket there."

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