Baby boom + gas boom = population growth | AspenTimes.com

Baby boom + gas boom = population growth

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Baby boomers’ appetites for second homes will help send the collective population of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties soaring by about 42 percent between 2005 and 2015, the state’s senior demographer said Friday.

Jim Westkott of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs said tighter lending practices and a cool down in the real estate market will temporarily ease the frenzy for second homes. But baby boomers, the oldest of whom are just hitting retirement age, will continue to be major “economic drivers” in Colorado’s resort counties.

Westkott was a featured speaker at Healthy Mountain Communities’ fifth annual State of the Valley symposium on Friday. More than 150 elected officials, policymakers and interested residents attended the conference at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs. They discussed problems facing the valley and probed for possible solutions.

Westkott said demographers at the department of local affairs, known as DOLA, are continually adjusting their population projections based on evolving factors in Colorado counties. Current projections indicate the population of Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties combined will grow from 116,500 in 2005, to 138,800 in 2010. By 2025, it will soar to 220,000, or about 88 percent more than the current level.

Nationally, the growth rate has been slightly less than 1 percent annually throughout this decade, Westkott said. It’s been greater in each of the three counties in the Roaring Fork Valley. Pitkin County was at 1.4 percent annual growth; Garfield County weighed in at 4.5 percent annually; and Eagle County was at 3.2 percent.

The combined annual growth rate of the population was 3.6 percent. “Anything above [3 percent] can be considered explosive,” Westkott said.

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Garfield County’s explosive growth is fueled by the natural gas boom as well as second home purchases. DOLA estimates the number of workers for gas companies will peak at about 5,500 in 2017, “then ease off,” Westkott said. The gas boom has primed the economic pump of western Garfield County. Everything from construction to retail activity has jumped because of gas activity.

The great unknown for Garfield County’s growth is the emergence of the oil shale industry. If research and development proves fruitful and leads to commercial production, another surge will sweep through Garfield County, he said.

The economies of Pitkin and Eagle counties are driven by second-home activity. Until recently, many buyers didn’t care if they used their second homes all that much. They knew their homes would soar in value so they would make speculative purchases. Tighter lending practices and slower appreciation will force many prospective second-home buyers to re-examine their direction, Westkott concluded.

In Pitkin County, most available land has been developed, so the population increase won’t be as drastic as in other resort counties, Westkott said. A bigger factor in Pitkin County will be increased use of second homes by baby-boomer buyers, he said.

DOLA’s projections show Pitkin County’s population will increase from 16,400 in 2005 to 17,600 in 2010. By 2025, it is expected to be 24,000 ” an increase of 46 percent over 20 years.

Eagle County’s population is expected to soar 64 percent from 49,400 to 81,000 over that period.

Despite the population hikes, the number of new jobs will outpace the number of workers. It’s not only a problem for the mountain counties. “We’ve got labor shortages of all kinds throughout the state,” Westkott said.

The projected growth will challenge local governments to make sure the infrastructure is adequate.

“These are big numbers,” Westkott said. “It’s going to require thought.”

Understanding the economic drivers is the first step in effective planning, he concluded.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.