98% Of Colorado’s Job Growth Has Been In Just 10 Counties. But It Should Be More Evenly Spread Across The State In The Future

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Pueblo’s Union Avenue stretches across the Arkansas River through downtown.

Over the last decade, the vast majority of Colorado’s fast-paced job growth has been concentrated in just 10 counties, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

And what exactly does “vast majority” mean? 98.4 percent.

“That's a good temperature to have if you go to the doctor,” said Chris Akers, an economist with the Department of Local Affairs, at the annual State Demography Summit last week in Littleton. ”However, if you're looking at an economy that works for everyone throughout our state, it really shows that the economic growth has been concentrated within our Front Range areas.”

But, Akers predicted, future job growth could be significantly more geographically diverse. He said that 86.5 percent of the 910,000 new jobs he expects to created between between 2020 and 2040 would be in that 10-county area.

That leaves more than 100,000 for the rest of the state, including Grand Junction and Pueblo.

“If we were to try to continue to sustain ourselves with a 98 out of every 100, jobs that we were creating being in a 10-county area, the other 54 counties within our state, would not thrive — to say the least,” Akers said. “I don't think that was a sustainable pattern."

While wages tend to be higher on the Front Range and can help cover higher living costs, Akers predicted other quality-of-life issues, like traffic congestion, could push firms to look beyond the Front Range. He also said initiatives to expand low-cost municipal broadband and renewable energy projects could help contribute to rural economic development.

And with those jobs, Akers said, population growth will likely follow. He’s hopeful that some people who left rural Colorado during the Great Recession will soon have a chance to return home.