Garfield County’s changing demographics based on the new 2020 U.S. Census numbers reveal a Catch-22 when it comes to the county’s labor market and housing.
There are fewer people to fill available jobs — a situation that’s likely to worsen as more baby boomers age out of the job market — and housing costs continue to rise in Garfield and surrounding counties, making it harder to hire new workers.
That was just one takeaway from a presentation given Monday to the Garfield County commissioners by Colorado State Demographer Elizabeth Garner.
Garfield County grew at a slower rate than the state as a whole over the past decade, from 2011 to 2020, than during the previous decade, Garner noted.
Colorado grew from 4.3 million people in 2000 to a little over 5 million in 2010 and then to 5.77 million with the 2020 census, for a growth rate of 14.8%.
The vast majority of that growth was along the upper Front Range, from Colorado Springs north to Denver, Broomfield, Longmont, Loveland and the Fort Collins and Greeley areas.
Garfield County, on the other hand, saw substantial growth between 2000 and 2010, from 43,791 to 56,389 — a growth rate of nearly 28.8%.
That trend slowed significantly over the past 10 years, though, as the county grew to 61,685 residents, a 9.4% increase.
With much of that existing population shifting into the 65-plus age group — Garfield County is forecast to see that segment of its population grow from about 9,000 now to nearly 14,000 by 2030 — it means there’s likely to be fewer workers to fill jobs.
Job growth statewide is expected to slow over the next decade, due in part to a slowdown in net migration of new residents into the state, and a decline in the under 18 population, Garner said.
On the other side of the jobs and labor coin, though, housing is not keeping up with demand for new people to replace older workers. And the housing market isn’t helping, Garner said.
“What we’re not seeing in the state as a whole is a good balance between housing growth and population growth,” she said.
Builders don’t necessarily look at growth as the main driver in building more housing. That has more to do with financing availability, she said.
If growth were more consistent, rather than subject to Colorado’s typical boom/bust cycles, it would be easier to plan ahead, she also noted.
With the ups and downs of the past decade, including the aftermath of the 2008 recession and more-recent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state saw 126,355 fewer housing units built over the past 10 years (278,506) than from 2000 to 2010 (404,861), according to Garner’s demographics report to the county commissioners.
Garfield County saw more than 6,000 new housing units built during the prior decade, compared to a little more than 1,000 this past decade, according to the report.
And Garfield County isn’t going to be any less attractive a place for people to move to over the next 10 years, Garner observed.
It has natural beauty, but with a larger population than other rural areas and with a lot of amenities such as shopping, restaurants and cultural offerings, the county will continue to see growth pressures, she predicted.
“You are ripe for more growth simply because of who you are and where you are,” Garner said.
Local planning departments in areas where growth is expected are also starting to talk more about how to deal with that growth in the context of water and other natural resources, she also said.
Garfield County has seen an increase in building activity to help meet that demand.
Through October, residential building permits issued for the unincorporated parts of the county alone, 242, are on track to surpass the pre-recession peak of 281 in 2007, Garfield County Community Development Director Sheryl Bower reported to the commissioners last week.
The county saw 226 residential building permits issued during all of 2020, she said.
“That’s a pretty big jump from previous years, and we’re getting close to where we were in 2007,” Bower said. “We’ll likely see quite a few more before the end of the year.”
The majority of overall building in the county this year has taken place within the six municipalities, where 582 new units have been constructed.
Most of that new building has involved multifamily housing in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs (434 units total), with higher numbers of single-family homes being built in New Castle, Silt and Rifle (96), the county stated in a news release pointing out the building permit numbers.
Glenwood and Carbondale saw a total of 35 single-family homes built this year. Of 791 total units built in Garfield County so far this year, 102 were deed-restricted as affordable housing.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected].