McCown questions results of county socioeconomic study |

McCown questions results of county socioeconomic study

Donna GrayPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A newly released Garfield County socioeconomic study that predicts more workers will travel away from home for their jobs over the next 25 years was questioned by one of the county commissioners. Much of the county’s expected population growth, that could reach 150,000 by 2030, will be driven by growing demands for workers in Pitkin and Eagle counties, the Garfield County Socioeconomic Impact Study said.While energy-related jobs will also grow apace as natural gas well drilling continues, lack of affordable housing, largely driven by demand from energy workers, may limit the long-term growth of the Garfield County workforce, the study also concluded.”I personally disagree with some of the conclusions,” said County Commissioner Larry McCown. “I’m not sure the out-commute (by county residents to jobs in other counties) will happen. Given the economy and the good-paying jobs (in the energy industry), I don’t think we’ll see out-commutes in the county … I think we’ll see in-commutes.”The study, commissioned by the County Commissioners in 2005 and conducted by BBC Research of Denver, developed economic and population forecasts for a 25-year period.”This is a very rich report if you look at it regionally,” said county Commissioner Trési Houpt, especially in the data presented for workers commuting between neighboring counties.Researchers also met with representatives of the oil and gas industry to determine current and future trends in that sector of the county’s economy. In 2005, there were approximately 4,000 people directly employed by oil and gas companies or their subcontractors in Garfield County. Based on 2005 severance tax information filed with the state Department of Local Affairs, about a third of those workers live in the county with most of the remainder based in Mesa County and neighboring states such as Utah and Wyoming.Natural gas development, according to industry people consulted by the researchers, will continue at a rate of about 1,000 new wells a year over the next 10 to 15 years. With about 4,000 operating wells in the county at present, that constitutes a total of 15,000 to 20,000 wells over the next 25 years.Nor will the fluctuating gas prices seen over the last year affect continued growth of the industry, the study said.”At present, the minimum price needed to support drilling in Garfield County is reportedly around $3 per million BTU (British Thermal Units),” the study said. Natural gas prices have fluctuated from more than $14 per million BTU in late 2005 to under $5 per million BTU in the fall of 2006.An economic price forecast prepared for BBC by energy economic forecaster John Tobin “anticipates gas prices will gravitate toward the $5 to $7 per million BTU range over the longer term,” the study said.The numbers of energy workers will peak at 5,300 in 2017, the study said, and gradually decline to a maintenance force of about 2,900. About half of those workers will actually live in Garfield County, with the rest commuting from Mesa County.According the study, by far the most significant growth in jobs will be in Pitkin and Eagle counties. Lack of housing, affordable or otherwise, will limit workforce growth in those counties, which will have to look to neighboring Garfield County to fill jobs, the study said.By 2030, fully 90 percent of the jobs in Pitkin and 63 percent in Eagle counties will be filled by people who live in Garfield.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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