Why is Glenwood the 7th-richest small town in U.S.? | PostIndependent.com

Why is Glenwood the 7th-richest small town in U.S.?

Randy Essex
ressex@postindependent.com

Glenwood Springs, recognized in 2011 as America's "Most Fun Town" and this summer as one of Outside Magazine's best places to live in the country, among many other honors related to recreation, can add a new, tonier feather to its rankings cap.

Glenwood, with help from its wealthy upvalley neighbors; Edwards (boosted by Vail); and Breckenridge are among the 10 richest small towns in America, according to a new Bloomberg Business analysis. Glenwood was ranked seventh, with Edwards second and Breckenridge fifth. Steamboat Springs was ninth and Durango was 16th.

This ranking, based on measures of household income and home values, puts the Glenwood Micropolitan Statistical Area in the league with resort getaways such as Summit Park, Utah, which was first; Jackson Hole, Wyoming, (third); and Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts (on Martha's Vineyard; fourth).

Bloomberg ranked U.S. Census Bureau micropolitan areas, which are named for the area's "principal city" with a population roughly between 10,000 and 50,000. The Glenwood statistical area comprises Garfield and Pitkin counties.

"I don't think it hurts to be known as a highly desirable place to live," said Marianne Virgili, president of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, "but we also have a reputation of being an authentic community with a small-town feel." That's Glenwood Springs' real calling card, Virgili said.

The ranking reflects the wealth of the Roaring Fork Valley as a whole and its appeal as a recreation, retirement and second home spot. The same is true for the other Colorado towns in the listing. The Edwards micropolitan area is Eagle County and the Breckenridge micropolitan area is Summit County — where roughly 70 percent of homeowners are considered second homeowners.

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The numbers reflect a mixed bag about life in the communities, said Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center, a think tank in Denver that promotes opportunity in the state.

"Lots of people of means find these communities very desirable places to be, and that's a good thing," Buchanan said.

"It's testament to the quality of life there," he said.

"The flip of it is that average home values are so high, it's a sign of significant disruption from the second-home economy. … It doesn't necessarily reflect conditions for year-round residents" who have trouble finding affordable housing.

Housing accounts for two of the measures in Bloomberg's index. It says that the median home value — the point at which half of values are above and half are below — in the Glenwood statistical area is $341,500, with 12.9 percent of homes valued at more than $1 million.

The Edwards statistical area median home value is $453,300, with 15.5 percent of homes valued at more than $1 million. The numbers for Breckenridge are $460,000 and 9.1 percent.

The other factors in the index are estimated median household income and the percent of households with income topping $200,000. Those numbers: Glenwood, $60,237 and 5 percent; Edwards, $74,456 and 9.2 percent; and Breckenridge, $63,697 and 5 percent.

Most of the towns on Bloomberg's top 20 list are mountain or island towns.

Natalie Gochnour, the associate dean of the business school at the University of Utah, told Bloomberg she saw a key difference between the towns in Utah and those in Colorado that dominated the top ranks. "While Utah has companies like Adobe and Goldman Sachs settling in and creating job opportunities in cities within commuting distance of its mountain towns, Colorado's big cities are too far from these resorts for people to drive back and forth on a daily basis," Bloomberg's story said.

"That probably means a good portion of residents in these Colorado towns would need to be living on income they earned in the past or on the return from their investments. … Wealthy people who buy second (or third or fourth) homes in the area also drive up the cost of living there," the story said.