County a gem of Rockies in report

Jeremy Heiman
Special to the Post Independent

Garfield County has scored very well in this year’s “State of the Rockies Report Card,” finishing near the top of the heap in the categories of “Healthy Places to Live and Work” and “Small Business Vitality.”

The “State of the Rockies Report Card” is a research project compiled annually at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. It rates counties in the eight Rocky Mountain states ” Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming ” on characteristics that might make counties desirable places to live. The counties are divided into metropolitan and non-metropolitan groups.

The report card rates Garfield County second only to Gallatin County, Mont., in the “Healthy Places to Live and Work” category, among non-metropolitan counties.

Garfield County scored well in the three criteria for the rating, “per capita pounds of toxic chemicals released,” (0 pounds) “percentage of adults in poor to fair health” (6.9 percent) and “average life expectancy” (77.4 years).

Garfield County’s top-notch results in the toxic chemicals column might be subject to change, however. Numerous persistent complaints about odors and visible air pollution near gas drilling operations in the western part of the county have motivated county officials to apply for funding for an air quality monitoring program. Results of monitoring won’t be available for some time, though.

Gallatin County, which lies north of Yellowstone National Park, also checked in with a zero in toxics. It scored worse than Garfield County in percentage of adults in poor health. But average life expectancy there is 78.9 years.

In the “Small Business Vitality” category, Garfield County was ranked fifth among the 219 non-metropolitan Rocky Mountain counties, just behind Summit County, Colo. (There’s also a Summit County in Utah.) The county’s rating in this category is based on “Growth of businesses with fewer than 10 employees, 1980 – 2001” (150 percent), and “Total new businesses with fewer than 10 employees, 1980 – 2001” (1,007).

Gallatin County took first in this category, too. Pitkin County scored tenth, with 131 percent growth and 681 new businesses in the same period of time.

The “Healthy Places to Live and Work” category is one of eight subgroups under the “Social and Cultural Capital” heading. Garfield County rated second among non-metro counties in the overall “Social and Cultural Capital” category.

“Small Business Vitality” is one of four categories under “Income, Employment and Equity,” an overall grouping. Garfield County was rated fifth among non-metro counties in “Income, Employment and Equity.”

In a final category, “Vibrancy and Vitality,” Garfield County is compared against 138 “micropolitan” counties having a town or group of towns with a population of 2,500 to 50,000. The report card rates Garfield County second, with a grade of “A+” and a “composite score” of 39.3.

This rating and grade are based on nine sets of data, including “Income distribution,” “Unemployment rate, 2000,” “Real growth in average earnings per job, 1970 – 2000,” “Poverty rate,” “Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher” and others. Colorado College researchers based the rating and grade on a composite score calculated using data from all nine sets.

In “Vibrancy and Vitality,” La Plata County, Colo., (where Durango is located) took first place, also with an “A+” and with a composite score of 44.9. Pitkin County was twelfth, with an “A” grade and a composite score of 17.8 ” just a few tenths of a point ahead of Montrose, in 13th.

According to the report, Pitkin County lost points because of the wide social divide between its wealthiest residents and the working poor who perform service jobs.

The authors and primary researchers of the “State of the Rockies Report Card” are Walter Hecox, an economics professor at Colorado College, and Rockies Program Coordinator Patrick Holmes, also an economics researcher.

Data used in creating the report are mostly from federal government sources, Holmes said. A good bit of information is from the 2000 national census, and more came from 2001 Department of Commerce publications. Information on toxic chemicals is from the Environmental Protection Agency. Small business data are from the Census Bureau’s annual publication, “County Business Patterns.”

Colorado College is a small liberal arts college with about 1,900 students and no graduate school. Established at the base of Pikes Peak in 1874, it was the first college established in Colorado (at that time, the Colorado Territory).

Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534

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