Commissioner Jill Repella has been a driving force for Douglas County's economic growth

Term-limited Jill Repella unsure of next step

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Jill Repella, a Douglas County commissioner in the last year of a two-term run and a former candidate for Colorado lieutenant governor, never planned on taking the political road.

Over the past eight years, Repella has focused on creating a business-friendly environment that has generated new jobs and on being an ambassador for the 16th-fastest growing county in the country. And though she has not yet revealed her next step, some colleagues say she should stay in politics.

“We can talk about parks and bike trails and open space all you want, but when you're talking about a family and they are trying to put food on a the table…. the quality of life begins with jobs,” said Jack Hilbert, a former Douglas County commissionerwho served alongside Repella from 2008-13. That's why Jill was unbelievable — she really gets the relationship between government and economic development and where to focus.”

Repella, 51, a Republican, is leaving the three-member commissioner board because of term limits.

“Politics was never something that I envisioned myself going into,” she said, while sitting recently in a conference room at the Douglas County Sheriff's substation in Highlands Ranch. “But I'm very much a problem solver and I think that problem-solving thinking is what led to a lot of success.”

Repella was working in commercial architecture and architectural design in San Diego when she decided to move back to Colorado in 1994 to raise her children in Highlands Ranch, where she has remained since.

“I felt the family values were pretty strong in Colorado," she said, "and that's the environment I wanted to raise my kids in.”

A single mother, she has three children — a Mountain Vista High School student, a recent Colorado School of Mines graduate and one who recently joined the Wyoming National Guard.

“I don't know if everyone understands what a devoted mother she is,” said former congressman Bob Beauprez, who chose Repella as his lieutenant governor during his 2014 unsuccessful run for governor. “Family sometimes suffers in public life, but she is a dedicated, devoted mother — and I admire that about her.”

Repella's political involvement started small,with frustration over a traffic issue in Highlands Ranch.

Because of how she handled the issue, someone suggested she run for a seat on the Highlands Ranch Metro District Board of Directors.

She did —in 1996 — and served eight years on the board, which oversees and manages resources for Highlands Ranch.

She also served on the Douglas County Planning Commission and was elected to the the Douglas County school board in the early 2000s. In 2008, she was elected District 3 Douglas County commissioner and re-elected in 2012. Her district includes Highlands Ranch, part of Sedalia and some other areas of unincorporated Douglas County.

Bringing in business

If there is one thing Douglas County residents know about Repella as a commissioner, it's that she is business-friendly and has been instrumental in bringing new businesses to the area.

For Repella, strengthening the economy by bringing business to Douglas County during a recession is one of the highlights of her career.

“I knew that we had to do things very differently,” she said, referencing the knowledge she gained from working in the commercial architecture field. “I recognized that, during the recession, we needed to work with the business community and understand their challenges to make sure businesses were successful. Because when they're successful, they provide jobs. To me, it was a very simple process.”

When Repella sat next to him on the board of commissioners, Hilbert said her passion for economic development was evident.

Repella went out into the community and talked to businesses. She explained that Douglas County wanted to create an environment where businesses and the government could work together.

“I think that she has done an amazing job of bringing in businesses to Douglas County — which brings jobs and helps tax revenue,” said Tanne Blackburn, chairman of the Douglas County Republicans.

Douglas County has an unemployment rate of 2.6 precent — the fourth-lowest rate in the nation among mid-sized counties. The national unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.

Douglas County Commissioner Roger Partridge cites Repella's skills in assisting businesses as one reason the county's unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in 14 years.

“We were by far more successful in strengthening our economy than I ever could have imagined,” Repella said. “We knew what we needed to do. We needed to streamline our permit process. We needed to be responsive to the business community. We needed to listen to what their challenges are. We needed to demonstrate that we are a partner with them as a government — which is not typical.”

A key element to that success, Repella said, was Colorado House Bill 12-1029 — also known as the Save Colorado Jobs Act — which passed unanimously in the state Legislature in 2012. The measure allowed individual counties the right to waive up to 100 percent of a new company's business personal property tax.

Until then, jurisdictions could only waive up to 50 percent.

“I hated sitting across the table from a business and saying, `I'll waive 50 percent,' because that's like saying, `We'll go halfway,' ” Repella said. “If I said, `I'll waive 100 percent of the business personal property tax,' it makes a bigger statement. It's not a big dollar amount, but it's more about the demonstration of commitment.”

Beauprez would like to see Colorado replicating Douglas County's accomplishments. That's why he asked Repella to be his running mate when he ran for governor in 2014. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper ultimately was re-elected in a close race.

“The fact that people want to move to Douglas County and invest in Douglas County, that's not by accident,” Beauprez said. “That pro-business, pro-economic growth philosophy — Jill and her fellow commissioners did a great job of that and the evidence is overwhelming.”

Looking forward

Going into her last year as commissioner, Repella still has the business community in mind.

Through the Denver South Economic Development Partnership — an economic development organization with special focus on transportation- and business climate-related public policy areas — Repella is working with a group to put together a robust business retention effort in the south metro area.

“What we're wanting to do is go out and meet with the businesses in the community and compile data and information on what's working and what's not working,” Repella said.

From that data, the group hopes to have a solid voice from the business community to affect policy at the local and state level.

“It's getting out and demonstrating that we appreciate you're here, we appreciate what you do for our community,” Repella said. “It's asking, `What can we do for you? What do you need in order to be successful?' ”

But as for what comes after her term concludes at the end of this year, Repella said she hasn't made any final decisions.

“I always try to keep my options open,” she said. “I have a lot of people encouraging me to stay in politics.”

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