Experts predict large growth for area over next 10-20 years
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories on the State of the Valley Symposium. The second story will appear Monday.With exponential growth a given for the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys over the next 10 to 20 years, it remains imperative for regional coalitions to steer that growth in a direction that will ensure the area’s continued prosperity. With exponential growth a given for the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys over the next 10 to 20 years, it remains imperative for regional coalitions to steer that growth in a direction that will ensure the area’s continued prosperity. That was the theme of the third annual State of the Valley Symposium Friday. The symposium featured experts in the fields of demographics, economics, planning and health care.”Although we see a lot of trends, that’s not entirely our destiny,” said Colin Laird, director of Healthy Mountain Communities, which hosted the event.HMC’s newly completed traffic-patterns study shows that most of the population and job growth will take place in the upper reaches of the Roaring Fork Valley.”There’s going to be a lot more traffic going upvalley,” Laird said, as well as in Glenwood Canyon. While such growth will put a strain on highways, housing, schools and all the infrastructure of our communities, Laird said residents still have their future in their hands. Regional cooperation is the key to planning future growth.”Regions are laboratories for innovation,” Laird said. Setting the stage for future growth was Colorado state demographer Jim Westkott, who predicted the population for Garfield County will grow to 125,000 by 2030. He also pointed out that increases in population don’t occur in a vacuum. Although Eagle County is predicted to grow to 120,000 by 2030, if it reaches just 90,000, Garfield County could grow to 150,000, he said.What drives the region’s economy are tourism, retirees and second-home owners, and the industries tied to second homes, such as construction, maintenance and other services. Westkott called second-home owners “wolves in sheep’s clothing” because pricey second homes drive land values up, making it difficult for workers to find affordable housing.The West has seen a continuing wave of immigrants since World War II, Westkott said. That steady stream has grown to a torrent with the immigration of the baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964.”The West has a disproportionate number of baby boomers,” Westkott said, especially as they’ve reached retirement age. “There’s no question this broad market will have a big impact on your region.”Statewide, between 2000-10, the number of people aged 55 to 64 will grow by 5.9 percent in Colorado, compared to 3.9 percent for the rest of the country. By 2020, that number will more than double, Westkott said.Leslie Robinson, of Rifle, asked Westkott if he’d charted economic growth in western Garfield County. Although he said he had not, Westkott predicted “(Western) Garfield County could become a suburb of Mesa County.”
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