Region 9 forecasts moderate growth

SW Colorado to see aging population, fewer children

As the region continues to pull itself out of the Great Recession, the population is expected to grow and the area should see more development, according to a new economic report.

Montezuma County grew 7.2 percent between 2000 and 2010. The population was expected to drop .5 percent in 2011 but is predicted to grow an average of about 1.9 per year percent through 2035, according to the report.

The Region 9 Economic Development District recently updated its report, which gives county-level data for population, employment and income numbers, among other things.

Dolores grew 11.9 percent from 2000 to 2010 and Dove Creek grew 5.3 percent during the same period. Rico saw the largest growth with 29.3 percent.

The numbers forecast an aging population with fewer students enrolled in area schools.

"That trend seems to be holding steady nationwide, but our area, especially Montezuma (County), should see some of that," said Laura Lewis Marchino, assistant director for Region 9.

The number of people over age 65 is expected to increase 123 percent by 2030, making it the fastest-growing age group in Colorado, according to a 2012 Colorado Department of Local Affairs report.

Despite the trend, Cortez has seen more businesses opening, including Willis Furniture and Cortez Yoga and Meditation, with at least one more restaurant on the horizon.

Entrepreneurs are still hesitant to open a start-up because of the financial risk, but more will venture into the market as the economy improves, said Joe Keck, executive director of the Small Business Development Center.

The city of Cortez recently passed an economic development resolution to ease the risk and encourage people to move to the area.

Under the "We're in this Together" resolution, small businesses that increase their sales by 3 percent over the previous year's sales tax receive a 10 percent sales tax rebate from the city.

The program launched in January so it's too soon to tell how effective it will be, but the city has received positive feedback from the business community, said City Manager Shane Hale.

The program provides an incentive to businesses looking to relocate and gives Cortez a competitive edge in the region, he said.

"The city is doing a little bit to help (businesses) start here and make it easier for them in the first two to three years when they really need that help," he said.

While the state unemployment continued to decrease in February, Montezuma County's stagnated at around 8.9 percent. Colorado's unemployment rate decreased one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.2 percent in February.

Dolores County's unemployment fell two-tenths of a percentage point but is still high at 9.3 percent.

Unemployment rates in Dolores and Montezuma tend to be higher because of the smaller populations, Marchino said.

"When you lose ten people, it's a big deal," she said.

The Gunnison sage grouse that has made headlines for the past two months also could have a "dramatic impact" on economic growth in the region, especially in Dolores County, Marchino said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed adding the bird to the endangered species list in January. The oil and gas industry is concerned that listing the bird an endangered species status would hinder well expansion.

The final Region 9 report for 2012 is expected to come out in June.

jdahl@durangoherald.com