Tourism, retirees help drive Garfield County’s economic recovery
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is recovering slowly but surely from the 2008 recession in terms of jobs growth and total employment, but continues to lag behind the Front Range metro areas, according to new data from the Colorado State Demography Office.
A diverse economic base, including a strong mix of tourism, retail, agriculture and natural resource development, is one reason Garfield County is doing better than many neighboring counties, Elizabeth Garner, state demographer with the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, informed county commissioners during a report of the just-released 2012 data on Monday.
Garfield County is also seeing a growing base of retirees and those nearing retirement age, more so than other nearby counties, which is helping to contribute to the overall economy, she said.
For now, Garfield County is one of the youngest counties in the state, Garner said.
But the county is on track to see a more than 100 percent increase in the population of people age 65 and older, from 4,717 in 2010 to more than 9,630 by 2020.
That growth can be expected to create about 12,000 jobs as the demand grows for services to support a growing number of retirees, a population that is on track to surpass 19,550 by the year 2040, if current trends continue.
According to the Garner’s report, the state’s economic recovery as a whole continues to be strongest in the Front Range metropolitan areas.
Weld County also continues to rank as the state’s leading county when it comes to oil and gas production and related jobs, followed by Mesa and Garfield counties.
In terms of new jobs, Garfield County has seen jobs related to health and education services, agriculture, government and management of companies actually surpass 2008 levels, Garner said in her report.
On the other hand, construction-related jobs recovered to only 60 percent of peak 2008 levels through 2012, and jobs related to oil and gas and mining were at 81 percent of 2008 levels, according to the demographer’s report.
Total jobs growth for Garfield County from 2011 to 2012 was between 2 percent and 4 percent, which was more than neighboring Mesa, Eagle and Pitkin counties. Rio Blanco and Moffat counties saw a loss in jobs of as much as 4 percent during that period of time.
Through 2012, the total number of jobs in Garfield County was at 88 percent of the 2008 peak, according to the report.
But it’s a tale of two counties, observed County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, when comparing the more-diverse eastern end of the county to the west end, which is much more dependent on oil and gas development.
“I have been amazed by the turnaround in Glenwood Springs, and it surprises me that there is that strong of a service industry related to tourism,” he said.
Rifle, on the other hand, has seen impacts directly related to the downturn in oil and gas activity, Jankovsky said.
“We do have a diversified economy in this county, but it is somewhat split by tourism on one side and agriculture and natural resources on the other side,” he said.
A projected 10 percent increase in jobs from 2010 to 2015 may be optimistic, county commissioners also said in reaction to the jobs forecast contained in the report.
But the recovery of numerous sectors, including the construction and housing markets, could also be linked to the growing number of retirees in the county, Garner said.
“Second homes are definitely an opportunity, and that also tends to fall into that tourism component,” she said. “It also ties to that aging population.”
Overall, Garfield, Mesa and Eagle counties are expected to be among the fastest-growing counties in Colorado between now and 2040, according to the report.
Based on current trends, Garfield County is expected to grow from a population of around 60,000 people now to about 109,000 by 2040.
While much of the state’s growth during that time is still expected to occur on the Front Range, Garfield, Mesa and Eagle counties are the only counties on the Western Slope expected to see substantial population growth, according to the projections contained in the report.
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Garfield County counted five new deaths attributed to COVID-19 over the past six weeks, even as the county’s vaccination rate continues to go up.