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The Local Market Experts

Boulder County’s economy still golden, but challenges about Labor shortages, housing prices pose problems for continued growth

Posted on: Jan 19 18

by: admin

The party’s not quite over for Boulder County’s economy, but experts have an eye on the horizon — and there might be tougher times ahead.

Wednesday evening’s Boulder Economic Forecast was presented at the newly opened Embassy Suites. The Boulder Economic Forecast hosted the event, as it has for the past 11 years, and Executive Director Clif Harald kicked things off much the same way he has since the local economy began its yearslong upward climb, only updating the year: “By almost every economic indicator we measure,” he said, “2017 was an historic year.”

And it was. Unemployment was at record lows; home prices reached record highs. Venture capital funders infused more cash into companies and projects than at any point in the last decade.

But, as Harald noted, “2017 was not without its challenges. As we head into 2018, efforts to address them will take on more urgency.”

Chief among them was a continuing labor shortage, which University of Colorado economist and keynote presenter Rich Wobbekind called the area’s “biggest short-term challenge.” Boulder County continued to add jobs in 2017, but at a slower pace than the peak in 2014 and ’15. Companies want to grow, Wobbekind said, but there aren’t workers to fill jobs.

“Almost every industry sector reported lack of available labor or properly trained labor. This doesn’t go away,” he said.

Despite this, the five-year average wage growth in the county was an “anemic” 5 percent. “This is a very, very troubling fact,” Wobbekind said, driven by the growth of low-wage jobs and the vast amount of retirees being replaced with lower-paid younger workers.

By 2030, Boulder County’s crop of 65-plus is projected to grow some 84 percent, according to State Demographer Elizabeth Garner. One in five residents will be in the age group.
An aging population will impact nearly every facet of the economy, Garner said, changing what services are needed, what jobs are created and what goods are sold. It has already depressed wages — as older workers retire, younger ones are hired at lower pay — and could potentially tighten Boulder County’s already pinched housing market.

“As people age, they move less,” Garner said. “You think you’ve got a housing problem now? Wait until all of you just age in place.

“Who’s going to create the housing opportunities for the newbies coming in?”

With birth rates on a steady decline, in-migration has largely been fueling growth in Colorado and Boulder County. But the number of people moving to the state is projected to level off in 2020 and beginning declining in 2025 as surrounding areas attract workers with growing economies and lower home prices.

Utah is one example, Wobbekind said, with a higher rate of job growth and housing price appreciation in 2017 than Colorado. Closer to home, Weld County has become a major destination for jobs and people.

The Greeley metro had more employment growth than any other in Colorado over the past decade. Weld County’s population grew fastest from 2015 to 2016, and is projected to more than double by 2040.

Growth in surrounding areas may be siphoning off consumers’ dollars, too: Sales and use tax in the city of Boulder were down 5 percent in 2017, while up in Broomfield (1.8 percent), Longmont (11.8 percent) and the state as a whole (7 percent).

“Remember the old definition of Boulder as 27 square miles surrounded by reality?” Wobbekind said. “Now, it’s 27 square miles surrounded by competition.”


Daily Camera January 17 2018. By Shay Castle, Daily Camera Staff Writer





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