6:28am

Fri January 17, 2014
Business

Ready Or Not, Growth Is Coming To Northern Colorado

Colorado appears poised for strong growth in coming years – both in terms of the economy and the number of people living here.

According to the most recent forecast from the state demography office, more than 7.7 million people will call Colorado home by the year 2040 – an increase of nearly 3 million.

The growth won't happen equally across all regions, though. The Denver-Boulder metro area will see the largest influx of people, with an increase of more than 1 million residents.

Northern Colorado - no stranger to growth in recent years - will likely see its population nearly double from current levels.

The north Front Range, defined geographically as Larimer and Weld counties, could see its population hit 1,054,000 by 2040, says state demographer Elizabeth Garner.

"I will tell you, that will change annually," Garner adds. "We redo our forecast every year to understand, and to be able to take into our forecast, current situations. So there could be something in Larimer-Weld that boosts growth, or there could be something -- for example, a policy change -- that could dampen growth."

Weld County's population is expected to double by 2040
Weld County's population is expected to double by 2040
Credit State Demography Office / dola.colorado.gov

There's no doubt that a doubling of the population -- even phased in over several decades -- will take a toll on resources such as water, infrastructure, and land.

Garner thinks Northern Colorado leaders have been fairly proactive in planning for the inevitable. "I think they identified, early on, 'Wow-- we're an attractive area, we're showing up in all these magazines as top places to live,'" she notes.

With tighter budgets and fewer resources to allocate, it's difficult for communities to plan for something so far into the future. But she says, it's important to try to ensure everyone's on board with planning.

"Whether the growth comes today, tomorrow, or ten years from now, let's put the plan in place," she says. "Let's talk about the 'what ifs' in case we have to do it tomorrow."

Interview highlights

With an increase of roughly half a million people expected for Northern Colorado by 2040, is there an epicenter for this growth?

"A lot of the growth that’s forecast for that region is in Weld, and a lot of it is in southern Weld County. Weld is a very large county, it’s got a lot of open space, so it’s got the room for it. Currently prices for land are currently lower than places in the some of the Denver central metro area -- and so that’s also an attractive piece, being able to purchase a home, buy land, at a price that’s maybe more affordable."

How much of a role will jobs in the oil and gas industry play?

"Right now, we have increased production in Weld for oil and gas, so our forecast this year I believe is going to be a little bit higher than it was last year.

What’s interesting is that often, the oil and gas jobs don’t lead to permanent residents. So often those rigs coming in to do the drilling aren’t necessarily permanent folks from Weld; they can be off of rigs from different parts of the state, or off rigs from different parts of the U.S. They could work 8 weeks on, 8 weeks off -- and they won’t necessarily count in our total population."

Chart showing pop. growth in Larimer County
Chart showing pop. growth in Larimer County
Credit State Demography Office / dola.colorado.gov

What about Larimer County? Is the growth primarily going to happen just in Weld?

"No, there’s going to be growth in Larimer as well. It just has less developable land. A lot of Larimer is mountainous, so you forget that you then hit the mountains and you have Estes Park… that piece of Larimer we don’t see growing as fast. But it’s still forecast to grow by [more than] 180,000 people by 2040."

You can create your own charts using this nifty tool from the state demography office website.

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