At Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, Elizabeth Garner with the state’s Demographer office, and Jessica Valand, Director of the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment Northwest Workforce Area, gave updates to the commissioners.
Population growing at a slowing rate
According to the Colorado State Demographer, Grand County’s population will only grow by a little over 6,000 in the next 30 years, hitting a mark of about 21,500 residents by the year 2050. Given the amount of development happening across the county, most might be surprised by the low projection.
State Demographer Elizabeth Garner walked the commissioners through a presentation geared toward explaining how her office had arrived at this assumption.
In 2019, the US population was reported at 328.2 million, a .5% (1.5 million) change from 2018. Garner noted it was the slowest annual growth since 1918.
In Colorado, the population in July 2018 was 5,758,736. The state ranks 8th in fastest growing at 1.2%, behind Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, South Carolina and Washington. In overall growth, the state comes in 7th, with 67,449, and behind Texas, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and Washington. From 2010 to 2018, the population has grown 725,000.
Here in Grand County, the county population has grown by 691 from 2010 to 2018, with July 2018 numbers coming in at 15,481 residents. The breakdown of residents saw Granby with the highest growth during that period at 278 followed by unincorporated Grand County (185); Fraser (88); Winter Park (59); Hot Sulphur Springs (49); Grand Lake (36); and Kremmling (-4).
Garner clarified that the data took into account births, deaths and net migration. 2010-2012 saw a significant migration out of the county as the recession took hold. Since 2013, migration into the county has steadily increased, more recently bucking trends when compared with neighboring resort communities in Eagle, Summit and Pitkin who began dropping in 2017-2018.
Young adults, between the ages of 22 and 37 years of age, and mid-40s to 50s represent most of the net migration into the county. The report broke out base industry shares of those that migrated in, showing 59.4% in Tourism; 8.8% in Dividends, Interest & Rent (aka trustfunders); 8.5% in Regional Services; 7.5% Retirees; 5.1% Agriculture; 3.9% Transfer Payments; 2.7% Federal/State government; 2.6% Commuters; 1.4% Manufacturers and .1% Mining.
Garner told the commissioners that job relationship is important for attracting and retaining residents. Job growth in Grand County averages about 2% a year. Between 2008-2018, changes in employment saw growth in Accommodation & Food, Arts, Entertainment & Recreation and Local Government, while Real Estate, Retail and Construction showed decline. In that period, a total of 513 low-wage ($25,100-28,000/year) jobs were added; 20 mid-wage ($32,200-45,700) were also added; and 247 high-wage positions ($45,900-112,000) were lost, primarily in the construction industry.
Grand County’s largest population is baby boomers, peaking at age 65. By 2030, Garner predicts there will be more than 4,200 residents aged 65+. Statewide, the median age is about 38.
In light of what looks to be slowing growth, the report indicates that by 2050, Colorado will see a population of about 8.1 million (down from a previous projection of 9.1 million) and Grand County can expect to see 21,500.
“It’s a slowing rate, but still forecast to grow, unless something changes in the front range,” said Garner. She added that there were risks to the forecast that included housing attainability, national growth/policies/immigration, water, transportation, budget and natural disasters.
In closing, Garner stressed the importance of the 2020 Census and offered assistance to the commissioners. “Let us know what we can do,” she said.
Workforce job match challenges
Jessica Valand next presented an update on the region’s state unemployment office, statistics and resources. The NW Workforce area includes Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties. Due to low utilization and an unemployment rate of 1.8% in Grand County, they opted not to renew their property lease and close the Granby office.
“It was a one person office with the lowest utilization,” said Valand, adding, “there is no natural population center in Grand County. In looking at the cost of operating, we made the determination it made better sense to provide mobile services.” To that point, Valand said that 2 employees from the Frisco office would rotate through the county weekly on scheduled days, visiting different locations such as a local library, community/town hall or chamber, providing assistance to those seeking employment. She highlighted that those who received assistance from the office had seen long-term wage growth over pre-entry.
By the numbers, CDLE had identified total regional employment at 8,796 and Median Household Income at about $70,500. From 2014-2019, jobs increased by 10%, outpacing the national growth rate of 7.3%, but as the number of jobs increased, the labor force participation rate decreased from 69.5% to 65.8%. Comparatively, Eagle, Routt and Summit counties employ an average of 78-84% of the workforce.
One issue the department identified is that over 50% of Grand County residents hold an Associates Degree or higher level of education. 70% of positions in Grand County call for a High School diploma or less, and pay a lesser wage. This makes it difficult for many employers to attract the local workforce they need to the positions they have. “The wages don’t command people to get back into the workforce,” said Valand.
The workforce is comprised of 3,232 millennials and 5,637 boomers who will be retiring soon. “You don’t have the workforce to backfill these positions and there will likely be a workforce shortage. What is the plan for Grand County to meet workforce demands? It is critical for the county to work on planning for the next decade.”
Valand suggested Grand County to be an ideal place for location neutral businesses, especially those that required a higher level of education. “You don’t need to upskill the workforce. What you need to do is to attract jobs and businesses that require a higher skill level. Upskilling workers is not needed. Reskilling workers could be an option – trade jobs pay a higher wage. That is a strategy Grand County should consider,” she said.
The biggest workforce barrier continues to be housing. “There has to be a housing component,” said Valand. “How do you make it more feasible for them to work here?” Valand told the commissioners Eagle and Summit counties offered more employer-provided/sponsored housing units which helped fill position vacancies.
Commissioner Chair Kris Manguso noted that new, affordable projects, such as Sun’s Smith Creek Crossing and the Rodeo Apartments in Granby, were coming online. She added, “I do think the ski resort needs to come to the table.”
In summary, housing, child care, training and wages will all factor in to the future of Grand County’s workforce.
The commissioners thanked Valand and Garner for their updates. “Having you both here together was powerful. Thank you very much,” said Chair Manguso.
The BOCC meets every Tuesday at 8:30 am, and the meetings are open to the public. To learn more, visit co.grand.co.us.