Demographic trends: Growing but slowing

They say that demographics are destiny. And whoever they are, they are right.

The most recent report from the Colorado State Demographer about population, labor  and aging trends shows that the future for Grand County and our mountain region will be marked by a situation of “growing but slowing” and “aging and greying” when it comes to population and jobs.

This trend reflects a snapshot of the future for both Grand County and other counties in our mountain resort region that include Summit, Eagle, Jackson, Routt and Pitkin.

Yes, we are probably going to continue to grow, both with jobs and population, in our county and region, but the growth is going to slow down a lot compared to trends of the last 30 years. And the slower growth in population isn’t likely to keep up with the growth in jobs, a trend we are already seeing.

Here’s an example. Grand County had a population of 14,790 in 2010, which grew to 15,503 in 2018. That’s an addition of 559 people in our county, reflecting a percentage of change of .6. Colorado, on the other hand, saw a annual average percentage change of 1.5 percent for the same period, which means the state overall is growing much faster than we are. Most counties in our region had about the same rate of growth.

Even more astounding to me was the statistic which states that from 2017 to 2018 Pitkin, Eagle and Summit County all lost population. Summit County, according to the numbers, lost one person in that span, prompting hilarious headlines in the local newspapers there. Who, they wondered, was that one person?

A little bit more alarming in the report was the batch of numbers that showed an increasing concentration in job and population growth along Colorado’s Front Range (particularly the northern Front Range) when compared to our region. Basically, the trends from the recent past and best guesses about the future show that growth rate of population and jobs over there will more than double the rates in our region.

The issues of age and racial diversity also stood out in the report. Grand County, by percentage, has the greatest concentration of Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) in the region, comparing fairly closely to Pitkin County. Summit County has the lowest percentage of us boomers. This is an important thing to consider because all of us boomers are going to be transitioning to the “old” category in population numbers.

In other words, the percentage of old people in Grand County’s population, and in all of Colorado, is going to increase rapidly in the near future. From 2015 to 2030, Colorado’s population of people older than 65 will grow from 719,000 to 1.2 million, an increase of 77%. This will be primarily from aging, not new in-migration.

Think about what that means if we aren’t growing overall at a great rate. That means many more of us won’t be working full-time, that housing accommodation will need to evolve, that incomes may decrease as more people get on fixed incomes and that health care and aging care will need to up their games.

The demographer’s numbers then make clear what is likely to happen as a result. The composition of Colorado’s population by race and ethnicity is going to change in a big way. Currently, the white not Hispanic population in Colorado is about 70 percent. By 2040 that number is expected to drop to around 55 percent, with the Hispanic population’s percentage going to nearly 40 percent.

Driving this racial and ethnic change is the fact that birth rates in America and in Colorado continue to decline. As well, a large chunk of the population is getting older. As the work force size dwindles for these reasons the void is going to be made up by ethnic groups other than whites. As well, there will be migration into Colorado by people who live in other states. The top two states for migration into Colorado are California and Texas.

For Grand County, this means we need to continue to plan for risks to our mostly tourism-based economy caused by economic downturns, climate change and even the continued stress on our water. And remember, jobs equal people. But how do we attract and retain the best workers for our industry? As we age, demands on public services will expand and there will be growing racial diversity at the younger end of our work force.

This all means we are going to see slower growth in the near future, which is just what some people have said we need. That is slow, steady growth that avoids the damage of the one-time dominant boom or bust economy that resulted in foreclosures, bank struggles and hard times.
Jon Stavney, the director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, summed it all up this way: “Bottom line, we need to make more babies, support those who are in those child-bearing ages while also engaging and retaining the aging and Hispanic populations.”

And that’s the silver lining and advice that could be gleaned from the state demographer’s report.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at

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