Vail Valley Voices: Reading the tea leaves
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the Vail Homeowners Association monthly report in January. We plan to publish weekly excerpts from the association, which keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the town.
The 2010 U. S. Census reports 10,538 more people residing in Eagle County, a 25.3 percent increase over the past decade, yielding a local population of 52,197. Vail’s population increased by 774 to 5,305. Census numbers do not include non-resident property owners. Importantly, when comparing census data with the County’s employment statistics, the size of the 31,625 member workforce by the end of the decade was only 4,195 more than the beginning of 2000, which means less than half of the increase is comprised of workers.
Jobs in decline: The total number of December jobs shows a 3,865 decline from the February 2008 high of 32,965. Even accounting for an increase in non-working dependents, there are fewer jobs for more people. Unemployment trends have not abated appreciably since the beginning of the Great Recession. Foreclosure rates in the county’s worker communities remain high with many businesses and families struggling.
The census figures don’t account for the outmigration of the work force because much of the job loss occurred within the last several months. It is said census officials in Eagle County were more aggressive than in the past towards making their count as accurate as possible. This may have contributed to the unprecedented rise in the county’s population numbers.
Minimal growth rate likely to continue: The census numbers also reveal that, according to the county’s linear growth projections, Eagle County has dropped below the minimum threshold for healthy growth within the last year. County advisors believe that a population growth rate of 2 percent per year is the minimum necessary to sustain a healthy economy. Within recent years, county officials maintain they have experienced a sustained high 9 percent annual growth rate.
It is highly unlikely that even a medium to high growth rate is possible because national economic conditions for housing construction remain deflated. As well, there are few quick fix, magic bullet solutions for other types of economic development. The slowing growth in population and rise in unemployment will most likely be reflected in property values. Local governments, including the school district, are facing downsizing or tax increases as revenues from real estate taxes shrink. Support from the state government is unlikely as it is having problems of its own.
Real estate sales in Vail are making progress but inventories remain grudgingly high throughout Eagle County. Construction is a primary employer. Until new construction begins to show strength, it is doubtful that the county’s population growth rate will move in a positive direction.
Eagle County’s full- and part-time population approaching 100,000: A plausible average annual growth rate of 3.5 percent, as projected in the county’s 2009 build-out analysis, forecasts that the population of full and part-time residents will expand from an estimated 92,000 today to 150,000 within 50 years. At a 2 percent rate, the total full- and part-time population would rise to 108,000.
These numbers can be extrapolated from its 2008 countywide inventory of residential dwelling units using an average occupancy of three persons per unit. In round numbers, 43 percent of today’s total population is composed of seasonal part-time property owners. In large measure, they sustain the local population of 52,000 residents.-Many developers are banking that the draw of Eagle County for part-time residents will most likely continue and perhaps even escalate.
Growing up gracefully: With a 3.5 percent growth rate and all factors remaining equal, Eagle County could adequately absorb 58,000 more full and part-time residents over the next five decades. Especially since that number represents far fewer people than have been drawn to the county over the past 50 years. However, if the average annual rate climbs upward to 7 percent, expect an additional 150,000 in full- and part-time population. This would present the probability of financial stress for government budgets and operations.–
Locals have long valued not having to share their turf full-time with the other half of the resident population because most part-time residents don’t spend much more than a few months out of the year in residence. If this were to change towards a greater proportion of full-time residents, it would cloud the valuation of their lifestyle.
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