Rocky Mountains will get more crowded |

Rocky Mountains will get more crowded

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Baby boomers’ appetites for second homes will help send the collective population of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties soaring by about 42 percent between 2005 and 2015, the state’s senior demographer says.

Jim Westkott of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs said tighter lending practices and a cool down in the real estate market will temporarily ease the frenzy for second homes. But baby boomers, the oldest of whom are just hitting retirement age, will continue to be major “economic drivers” in Colorado’s resort counties.

Westkott, a speaker at this weekend’s Healthy Mountain Communities’ symposium in Glenwood Springs, said demographers at the department of local affairs are continually adjusting their population projections for Colorado counties.

Current projections indicate the population of Pitkin, Garfield and Eagle counties combined will grow from 116,500 in 2005, to 138,800 in 2010. By 2025, it will soar to 220,000, or about 88 percent more than the current level.

Nationally, the growth rate has been slightly less than 1 percent annually throughout this decade, Westkott said. Pitkin County was at 1.4 percent annual growth; Garfield County weighed in at 4.5 percent annually; and Eagle County was at 3.2 percent.

“Anything above [3 percent] can be considered explosive,” Westkott said.

The economies of Pitkin and Eagle counties are driven by second-home activity. Until recently, many buyers didn’t care if they used their second homes all that much. They knew their homes would soar in value so they would make speculative purchases.

Tighter lending practices and slower appreciation will force many prospective second-home buyers to re-examine their direction, Westkott said.

Eagle County’s population is expected to soar 64 percent from 49,400 to 81,000 in the next 20 years.

Despite the population hikes, the number of new jobs will outpace the number of workers. It’s not only a problem for the mountain counties. “We’ve got labor shortages of all kinds throughout the state,” Westkott said.

In Pitkin County, most available land has been developed, so the population increase won’t be as drastic as in other resort counties, Westkott said. A bigger factor in Pitkin County will be increased use of second homes by baby boomer buyers, he said.

Garfield County’s explosive growth is fueled by the natural gas boom as well as second home purchases. Local Affairs estimates the number of workers for gas companies will peak at about 5,500 in 2017, “then ease off,” Westkott said.

The gas boom has primed the economic pump of western Garfield County. Everything from construction to retail activity has jumped because of gas activity. The great unknown for Garfield County’s growth is the emergence of the oil shale industry. If research and development proves fruitful and leads to commercial production, another surge will sweep through Garfield County, he said.

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