Overall state of Garfield County’s economy looking up after first quarter of 2023

Spring has sprung in Garfield County and that means the first quarter numbers are in for the county.
Cassandra Ballard/Post Independent

Nathan Perry, PhD, associate professor of economics at Colorado Mesa University, presented the first quarter numbers for 2023, and Garfield County is in pretty good shape. 

Perry thinks the strong labor force in both the region and the nation will stave off a recession, even though all other signs predict one. 

He showed the main indicator for previous recessions through a 10-year minus two-year Treasury, or government bond rates. Long-term bonds normally have higher interest rates and they slope up. When it inverts, short-term bonds pay more interest than long-term bonds. 

Courtesy/Nathan Perry

When this happens, there is typically a recession to follow within 10 months, he said. 

Perry does think there will be a minor recession, but nothing that will create a high unemployment rate.

Here is what the rest of last week’s Glenwood Springs Chamber economic forecast presented. 

Population in Garfield County

Growth projections for Garfield County estimate a population growth of 30,000 people by 2050. 

The 2020 Census reported a population in Garfield County of 61,685 — 6,000 more people since 2010, when the population was 56,389. The 2020 population in Garfield County, according to Perry’s data, was 61,723.

But that’s about to change significantly, Perry predicts.

According to his growth projection, Garfield County will grow to:

  • 65,826 by 2025
  • 71,854 by 2030 
  • 78,614 by 2035 
  • 85,227 by 2040 
  • 90,959 by 2045
  • 94,886 by 2050
Courtesy/Nathan Perry

Rio Blanco County was projected to shrink by 1,000 people in the next 30 years, Moffat County is projected to shrink by 2,000 while Montrose County is expected to grow by 13,000 and Delta County is expected to grow by 5,000. Mesa County is projected to grow by 70,000 by 2050. 

“Garfield has high births, low deaths and a ton of migration,” he said. “That’s the reason that Garfield is expected to grow so much in terms of population.”

On the flip side, Perry said that he thinks people will start losing interest in moving to Colorado because of the high cost of living, much like how it became less trendy to move to places like Portland, Oregon. 

Job market

Unemployment ticked up in January and February but went back down to 2.6% in March 2023, according to Perry’s data and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The unemployment rate in Garfield County is low, but not the lowest in the state. Pitkin and Eagle counties both have lower unemployment rates with Eagle at 1.9% and Pitkin at 2.0%. Garfield County is lower than Denver County at 2.8% and Mesa County at 3.1%, according to the CDLE. 

Garfield County employment was at 31,590 in March 2023, almost completely back to the pre-pandemic numbers in 2019 when employment was at 31,550. The last time employment was higher than 31,550 was in 2009, at 32,161, before it dropped to 27,896 in 2010 during the Great Recession, according to Perry’s data.

“The labor market is insane right now,” Perry said, referring to employers. “You’re not going to be able to stop raising wages.”

Colorado had 116,783 recorded job vacancies on April 1, 2023, according to the Colorado Chamber of Commerce, with 1,775 vacancies in Glenwood Springs in April 2022. 

Colorado is ranked 19th in the U.S. for vacancies, with 20.2 vacancies per 1,000 people, according to the Colorado Chamber of Commerce reports.

The national unemployment rate is 3.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since 1969, Perry said. 

The unemployment rate in Colorado is 2.8%, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) released its quarterly economic forecast in March showing Colorado’s strong economy continues to grow faster than other states in the United States. 

Courtesy/Nathan Perry


The median salary per person in Glenwood Springs is $56,451 and $20.25 hourly for part-time. The statewide median salary is $59,998 and a median of $28.81 hourly for part-time.

Wages recorded in the third quarter of 2023 compared to the third quarter of 2022 in Garfield County increased for every industry except utilities, and had the biggest increases in construction, educational services and real estate/rental/leasing industries. 

Courtesy/Nathan Perry

Industries in Garfield County that had the highest number of people leaving the field were healthcare and social assistance, wholesale trade, administrative and waste services and transportations and warehousing. 

The industries in Garfield County with the largest number of people switching into the field were construction, mining and educational service. 

Personal income per capita rose to $67,123 in 2021 from $62,296 in 2020, but the median household income decreased from $79,958 in 2020 to $78,940 in 2021.

Courtesy/Nathan Perry

Sales and Use Tax, Gross Domestic Product and Leeds Business Confidence Index 

Besides a big drop in Glenwood Springs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, sales and use tax revenue has stayed at a constant upward slope in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Garfield County. 

Rifle reached more than $1.5 million in sales and use tax revenue at the end of 2022, and is still following an upward slope in April 2023, according to Perry’s data. 

The Leads Business Confidence Index stayed at a consistent score of 40 since the last quarter 0f 2022. The score dropped from 65 in the middle of 2021 but hasn’t gotten as low as the low score of 30 that followed the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the beginning of 2009. 

GDP was down 2.98% in 2021, which Perry said was mostly due to local losses in oil and gas revenue, which is down because of the cost of oil and gas going down, more restrictions on the industry and fewer workers in the field. 

“They can’t find people to work out on the rigs,” Perry said. “It’s interesting. It’s a really interesting time.”

Oil and gas prices spiked in the beginning of 2022 and then plummeted again in August 2022. 

Perry said it is one of the industries having a harder time finding people to hire. Oil and gas makes up 27.89% of Garfield County’s GDP and dropped 33.42% from 2020 to 2021. The second largest contributors to the Garfield County’s GDP are finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, which makes up 16.55% of the GDP and increased 8.15% from 2020 to 2021. 

Courtesy/Nathan Perry

Post Independent city and business reporter Cassandra Ballard can be reached at or 970-384-9131.

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