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Quick links: Competition for people | Bonus Q&A with demographer | New affordable housing experiments | Kaiser health worker strike update | Workers with disabilities programs

“Y’know Elizabeth, I’m not a fan of people.”

The audience laughed. It’s a comment Elizabeth Garner hears often, especially from Coloradans who don’t want more people moving to the state. She gets it, she says, and then asks, “So, what’s the issue?”

Elizabeth Garner, Colorado State Demographer, presents at SunFest in Denver on Sept. 29. Garner has tracked how the state is getting older and the number of incoming residents is projected to decline. (Sandra Fish, The Colorado Sun)

“‘They’re on our roads. They’re in our houses. They’re on the ski slopes.’ I’m like, all right. But tell me what do you think about jobs? And the first thing they’ll say is, jobs rock. And we need more jobs. Job growth — good,” said Garner, sounding like a cartoon caveman. 

More laughter.

“A job is a person and a housing unit is where that job sleeps at night. You cannot be pro jobs and anti-people,” she deadpans. 

The always entertaining Garner, Colorado’s State Demographer, was speaking last week at The Colorado Sun’s first-annual SunFest (yes, we’re doing it again next year!) to lay out how the economic future of Colorado could change dramatically if the state doesn’t maintain its population growth, which has slowed.

Without new people — i.e., babies and adults who choose to move here — there won’t be enough people to fill the jobs vacated by retirees or fill the new jobs created as residents grow older. And the bulk of new residents has been at a stubbornly consistent age range of 22 to 37 years old. And what attracts young people? The outdoors, an affordable place to live and, more often than not, a job. 

“Jobs drive migration,” she continued. “I hear people mention it all the time, ‘We don’t like people.’ So, you have to think about what jobs you are willing to do without if you don’t like people.”

The competition for people

But it’s not as simple as realizing that we’re all getting older so adding more health care workers, developers who build aging-in-place housing and other occupations that help the state grow older could benefit existing residents. We’re also competing with other states for those migrating young people and families. 

Garner shared this slide below, showing her forecasts for Colorado’s population: More deaths, a decline in births and a steeper drop in net migration.

Colorado’s population has been boosted by young adults, aged 22 to 37, moving to the state in the past several decades. But as births nationwide drop, there will be fewer young people migrating to Colorado. (Provided by Elizabeth Garner, Colorado State Demographer)

Migration often follows the downs and ups of the state’s economy, with a big dip in the 1980s during the savings and loan bust and high gas prices. Net migration growth in the ’90s led to a mini baby boom. Why? “Because when we attract people to Colorado, we attract young adults. And what do young adults do? They find other young adults and they procreate,” she said.

Colorado’s population increased by 26,000 people in the past year. Half from a natural increase, and half from net migration, Garner said.

“We’re nowhere near Texas,” she said. “Texas increased by 300,000. Three hundred thousand! We need to remember that we’re competing, right, for the best and the brightest. Colorado has always been able to compete for the best and the brightest. Except recently. So, that drop in net migration was also an indicator that Colorado has gotten really expensive. I think that that is a concern. … Will people choose to come to Colorado? Sure. I mean, it’s still beautiful. The mountains are still beautiful. They’re still there. But can we attract and retain? Can we compete for the best and the brightest? And I do think we should plan for both sides.”

➔ WATCH: Missed SunFest? Watch Garner’s presentation and our conversation here: From Alphas to Millennials to Boomers, here’s how Colorado’s population is growing larger and older

YouTube video

Bonus: Garner answers more questions 

Several audience members asked questions and we did not have time to get to all of them. Garner graciously answered the rest of them. Enjoy!

How is climate change affecting your forecasts?

We do not explicitly have climate change in the forecast since we don’t know exactly what the impacts will be. …Perhaps climate change will impact certain industries but we don’t know which ones or by how much.  However, knowing that we don’t explicitly have a climate change component means that people can take our forecast and run different scenarios.

What are the implications of an aging population on local governments as they look at housing and development? 

You could have a daylong conference on the impacts/implications —  from services, to labor force, to housing etc.  But, the point is we have always aged. It is not really about aging itself, it’s the transition.  For example, older adults spend their dollars differently than younger adults.  Spending more on services and less on goods.  We tax goods not services — this could have a big impact on local government finances. 

What counties will grow and what will shrink? 

Garner is preparing an annual update next month, but according to the demographer’s office most recently available forecast, Baca and Bent counties will see the largest rate of population declines this decade. 

Meanwhile, Archuleta, Broomfield, Douglas, Garfield and Routt are all expected to see their populations grow 20% or more in the next decade to 2031. 

Elbert and Weld counties are forecast to grow more than 30% between 2018 to 2031.

Do your numbers reflect other states’ migrations and the percentage predicted to come to Colorado?

Our net migration to Colorado inherently includes migration from other states.  We do not forecast state-to-state migration. However, we do think about other states and their conditions.  For example, we see births down in California and total population decline and we know that California tends to be one of our largest donor states.  It makes us consider the sensitivity of our migration numbers. Check out census state-to-state migration flows from the American Community Survey. This is not 100% what we use for our migration numbers but it helps to inform it (see the data).  

Do you foresee a continuation of the remote worker trend from the past few years? 

We don’t know yet if Colorado is a net gainer or loser from remote work.  We do not forecast the remote work increasing beyond what we saw during COVID.  We do think hybrid work is here to stay and that will have impacts on remote workers. Those that were working out of state or at a significant distance from their office, may need to move closer in order to show up X number of times per week or month.

What are the fastest growing cities or counties in Colorado?

Douglas County had the largest number of new residents between 2020 to 2021, while Custer County had the largest rate of growth. El Paso County is the largest county in the state, with about 26,500 more people than Denver County.

How has the cost of housing impacted net migration? 

We don’t have a report or actual data on people who may have chosen Colorado but then did not due to cost of living. We know that our migration has been down lately during the COVID years of 2020 to 2022, but it had also been slowing earlier.  Costs are probably a factor but we are not able to identify exactly to what level.  

Was the large net in-migration in the early 1970s at all attributed to the John Denver factor?

People say it was a factor. Hard to explicitly prove but marketing is marketing.  Also during the ‘70s, we were experiencing a significant expansion in the Federal Center and baby boomers were in their prime migration age. Was it the jobs that brought people to Colorado or John Denver? Probably a little of both.

What is the most common age range for out-migration from the state? 

Out migration prime movers are typically the 18-35 year olds, so even our out migrants tend to be the same age. We are also starting to see an increase in out migration for our 65+ population.

➔ Want to learn even more? The 2023 State Demography Summit is all day Nov. 3 at  Arapahoe Community College in Littleton. >> Register

Affordable housing experiments: 3D-printed houses, cash back and more

Alquist 3D is moving its Iowa headquarters to Greeley after receiving support from the local government, community college and about $4 million in incentives. (Provided by City of Greeley)

In an effort to test out a new way to build affordable housing, the city of Greeley welcomed Alquist 3D, an Iowa-based homebuilder of 3D-printed houses, which announced Friday that it’s moving its headquarters to Greeley. Alquist credited $4 million in state and local incentives as well as support from Aims Community College, which is planning to add new curriculum to train students in 3D printing for residential construction.

Read the story:Affordable housing goes 3D with efforts focused on building a hub in Greeley

More on affordable housing in Colorado

➔ Pay rent on time, get cash back. Two low-income townhome neighborhoods in Arvada managed by Archway Communities were picked for a $5.85 million experiment to share the concept of home equity with tenants. While tenants don’t become owners, those who pay their rent on time will get 2.5% cash back to use as they wish. 

Impact investors at Enterprise Community Partners in Maryland are investing $1.7 million to make capital improvements in the Sheridan Ridge and Willow Green Townhomes and expect a small return. But they wanted to figure out how renters could share in any profits so they started the Renter Wealth Creation Fund, said Chris Herrmann, Enterprise’s chief investment officer. 

“It’s really just in recognition that profits can be achieved in owning and operating affordable housing,” Hermann said. Tenant meetings are expected to start this month to share how the program will work. 

➔ More efforts to get Coloradans housed: Sun reporter Jennifer Brown covers three of them in “How does Colorado solve its homelessness problem? Here are three programs that could help.” >> Read

➔ Condo construction updates. Construction defects liability has been an issue for years in Colorado. Here’s the latest from reporter Elliott Wenzler: “New condos are hard to find in Colorado. Getting developers to build more will roil the Capitol next year.” >> Read

Other working bits

➔ Kaiser Permanente union on strike for 3rd day.  Some 75,000 health care workers walked out of hospitals and Kaiser Permanente facilities nationwide Wednesday, including about 3,000 in Colorado for a planned three-day strike that is set to end Saturday morning. No deal was reached as of Friday evening, the Associated Press reported. Members of the SEIU Local 105 union went on strike after demands for the company to address burnout, wages and inadequate staffing levels weren’t adequately addressed. Kaiser had notified its customers that all medical offices remain open and staffed by doctors, RNs and nonstriking workers. The company’s goal of hiring 10,000 workers by year’s end was accomplished Wednesday. Colorado Sun health reporter John Ingold has more on what the two sides are negotiating in The Temperature newsletter. >> Sun, AP

Kaiser Permanente workers hold up signs outside the system’s Franklin Medical Offices in Denver on Oct. 4, 2023, the first day of a scheduled three-day strike. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

➔ Blackbaud attacked by ransomware, pays $785,000 to Colorado. A 2020 ransomware attack that exposed nonprofit donor data of software firm Blackbaud is history. But because the company didn’t appropriately notify customers, which include 13,000 nonprofits and government agencies nationwide, the South Carolina firm agreed to pay $49.5 million in a settlement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and 49 other AGs. Colorado’s share is $785,000, which will be used for restitution, consumer education and other enforcement, according to the AGs office. >> Read settlement

➔ Colorado gets $14.1 million for vocational programs for students with disabilities. Coinciding with National Disability Employment Awareness Month, the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation inside the labor department was awarded $14.1 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Disability Innovation Fund. The state’s plan is to hire a dedicated DVR counselor to work with local school districts and connect children and students with disabilities to supportive vocational programs. An employer challenge is underway for October. 

  • Related: Creating jobs for workers with disabilities. Colorado’s Office of Future Work exists to help folks who have trouble finding work. This month, the focus is on people with disabilities. The agency’s Apprenticeship Colorado program will host a webinar for companies who want to support and attract workers with disabilities through apprenticeships. The webinar is Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. >> Register  

Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. Don’t forget to check out The Sun’s daily coverage online if you want more stories faster. Did you know that stories are free for everyone to access? That’s thanks to support from our members, so thank you to all who have contributed. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at ~ tamara 

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Tamara Chuang writes about Colorado business and the local economy for The Colorado Sun, which she cofounded in 2018 with a mission to make sure quality local journalism is a sustainable business. Her focus on the economy during the pandemic...