Population Surge Projected For Western Slope

Dec 29, 2015

An aerial view of the town of Paonia and North Fork Valley in Delta County, Colo.
Credit Steve Huntley

It’s estimated 7.8 million people will live in Colorado by the year 2040. A Rocky Mountain PBS News analysis of data from the state demographer and the U.S. Census Bureau shows, seven of the 10 fastest growing counties will be on the Western Slope, including Garfield and Montrose. 

"There’s quite a few people who live in our communities that have moved from larger cities," said Michelle Haynes, the executive director of the Region 10 League for Economic Assistance and Planning, which tackles regional issues in six counties in Western Colorado. 

"I think they’ll often tell you they moved for quality of life and the rural lifestyle. We’re fortunate to live in a very beautiful part of our state." 

An aerial view of the North Fork of the Gunnison River outside of the town of Hotchkiss in Delta County, Colo.
Credit Western Slope Conservation Center via EcoFlight

According to the numbers, Montrose County could see its population increase by more than 31,000 people over the next 25 years, making it the seventh fastest growing county in the Colorado. Delta County comes in eleventh place with its population jumping by 70 percent to more than 52,000. 

Communities across the region like Ouray, San Miguel, and Hinsdale counties are also predicted to see gains. 

Planning Ahead 

Delta County Administrator Robbie LeValle wants to see more people move here. She said in recent years, the county has seen its population decline as coal mines in the area scale back production and layoff hundreds of workers.

"I would welcome individuals that want to come and certainly add to our quality of life and economic base," said LeValle. 

She said more people equals more tax revenue, and that’s a good thing. However, that means the county will need to invest in additional infrastructure like public safety and roads, a costly endeavor for a cash-strapped community.

Thrish Thibodo, with Delta County Economic Development, said getting high-speed internet to the area is essential for expansion.

"This is what I tell people," said Thibodo. "It is like running water. It is like electricity. It is a basic necessity and becoming more and more of a basic necessity for businesses and individuals to conduct their business as they need to." 

She said some companies that wanted to move to Delta County didn’t because of the slow internet.

"We’ve had people who’ve come over from the Front Range expecting to move their business, bought a house and had to move back to the Front Range. So now their house is a second home."

However, a regional effort is underway to improve area broadband. And, Thidobo hopes that will encourage more companies to relocate.

I do think a lot of this growth will be some of our older population. Delta and Montrose both have been desirable retirement communities for some time.

Changing Demographics

The Western Slope could also see unique challenges based on demographics.

Haynes said communities need to prepare for a graying populace. 

"I do think a lot of this growth will be some of our older population," she said. "Delta and Montrose both have been desirable retirement communities for some time."

The Colorado Demography Office estimates that between the year 2010 and 2030 the number of people in Colorado over age 65 will increase 125 percent to 1.3 million. But, the state said that rise comes from people already living here, who will be reaching retirement age.

"We do need to plan for the long-term to make sure we have facilities, amenities and services in place for an older population," said Haynes.

It’s also estimated 2.3 million people will move to Colorado by 2040. Haynes said that figure might seem overwhelming, but it’s important to remember they won’t come all at once.

"When you think about it as adding a few thousand people a year or maybe every four or five years...[it's] a little easier to think about how they would assimilate into our communities and into our counties and gives us time to plan for that growth."