Changing Colorado

“Colorful Colorado” may need to be changed to “Crowded Colorado” with the number of people expected to move here by 2040. All that growth will take a toll on the state’s infrastructure as well as water and other natural resources. As part of a series that were calling “Changing Colorado” – Bente Birkeland looks at the current population trends and which areas will be impacted the most…

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Parts of Colorado are already feeling the pinch of an ever growing population. Greeley is now a city of more than 100-thousand people and affordable housing is getting harder to come by. Now factor in a 40 percent increase  in population over the next 25 years…

GARNER: This is not an unusual amount of population change. What we forecast is an average growth or the maximum likelihood.

BENTE: That’s state demographer Elizabeth Garner. For our series, Rocky Mountain PBS I-News analyzed data from her office and the U.S. Census bureau. The numbers show an estimated 7.8 million people will call Colorado home by 2040.

GARNER: A lot of areas are poised for growth…

BENTE: Weld County’s population is expected to double to half-a-million – and El Paso County will still be the largest county. And it’s not just the Front Range; the I-News analysis shows seven of the ten fastest growing counties will be on the western slope including Eagle, Garfield and Routt.

RADKE: Colorado continues to attract those in the 24-35 year age group and that means there’s jobs here and young people are coming from all over the country to fill those jobs.

BENTE: Mark Radke is with the Colorado Municipal League, a resource for cities and towns, which represents their interests at the state capitol.  

RADKE: It shows health, if you were seeing the opposite you’d know you’d have a problem.

BENTE: But growth poses its own challenges. Colorado’s housing market is already tight. More people will likely continue to price out those who can’t keep up with the real estate market.

MOYE: And eventually that will catch up with us…”

BENTE: Kelly Moye is a spokeswoman with the Colorado Association of Realtors.

MOYE: “So eventually our market will become not affordable for most people. And when companies look to bring jobs and all their employees here, they may choose another place because it’s not an affordable place to live…so it’s a big challenge”

BENTE: That’s what happened to 30 year old Tran Pham. While she found a place to live in Telluride – she couldn’t find space to grow her Vietnamese food business.

PHAM: I love Telluride; my passion to do something for myself is a little bit bigger than Telluride. If I was able to get a place set up here then I would totally be staying.

BENTE: And recognizing that most of those moving here will likely settle in more urban areas – some rural communities are struggling to stay relevant. Pockets of western Colorado and the eastern plains will stay stagnant or lose population.

SUTHERLAND: We’ve got a number of initiatives underway by people who have dug their heals in and said we’re not going to allow this to happen.

BENTE: John Sutherland is the city administrator of Lamar, located two hours east of Pueblo. He says young people in his community are already leaving to go to areas with better job prospects.

SUTHERLAND: I’m hopeful that attitude will win, but I’m not sure it will.

BENTE: The Colorado Municipal League’s Mark Radke says it will take some new approaches

RADKE: What I’ve always found heartening is the inventiveness of these communities and building on what they have and making the most of that to improve their economy.

BENTE: No matter where people end up living – having enough water to accommodate an additional 2.3 million people by 2040 is already an issue. That’s why Governor John Hickenlooper is promising action on the newly-released statewide water plan.

HICKENLOOPER: We now have a plan with measurable objectives and concrete goals. 4:38- This is the beginning. We’ve got to get right to work.

BENTE: But an aging population is among the biggest change on the horizon. While we are among the youngest state in the country – state demographer Elizabeth Garner says a large group of people who moved here in the 1970s will be reaching retirement.

GARNER: Not saying that anything magical happens at 65. But you start switching into that non worker, your commuting is different, your use of transportation is different your housing may change, 11:55- Your spending changes.  

BENTE: Change is inevitable – which is why state leaders say it’s important to create long-term plans now. The Governor’s office has a commission on aging and earlier this year lawmakers created a separate task force to study the issue.  In the coming months we’ll examine these aspects of a changing Colorado in more detail and what it means to those of us living here now.

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