Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Morgridge College of Education, Higher Education

First Advisor

Ryan Evely Gildersleeve, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michelle Tyson, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Cynthia Bell, Ed.D.


Economic development, Rural economic development, Community capitals framework, Entrepreneurship ecosystem, Theory driven program evaluation, Community colleges


Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent recession, some urban and metro areas have experienced economic recovery, but not all geographic areas are recovering at the same pace. Federal, state, and local programs developed to help rural communities with their economic development efforts have failed to make much of a difference. In 2015, as a potential solution, Colorado spearheaded an initiative to incentivize economic development in rural communities. The Rural Jump-Start (RJS) Zone Act provides tax relief to new businesses and employees of those businesses, with the idea that because of these benefits, more businesses would retain, start, locate, or relocate to the rural economically distressed areas of Colorado.

This program evaluation delved into the complexities of the RJS program. It used the theory-driven program evaluation model (Chen & Rossi, 1983), with the community capitals framework (Emery & Flora, 2006) as the theoretical framework and the entrepreneurship ecosystem (Isenberg, 2014) as the conceptual framework. Data were gathered through interviews of 19 stakeholders—four considered program visionaries/creators, five from government entities, four program participants/recipients, three from institutions of higher education, and three representing other stakeholders—as well as document review. The qualitative data were coded and analyzed using Dedoose.

Four general findings emerged: (1) the community capitals framework model of a healthy community ecosystem must be in place for an entrepreneurship ecosystem to be built, and the entrepreneurship ecosystem needs to be in place for the RJS to be successful; (2) the perception of success varies with the differing perceptions of the stakeholders; (3) geographic location matters; and (4) the level of success of the RJS correlates to the level of involvement of the institution of higher education. The implications of these findings are discussed and recommendations offered for improving the program so that it will have the best effect on the most communities.

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