What do population forecasts tell us?

One of the ways that I like to “geek out” is by perusing various population projections. I eagerly await every 10-year U.S. Census, and the five-year U.S. Economic Census always gets my pulse rate going.

At the state level, the State Demography Office, part of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, provides ample material for analysis. One such study is the Preliminary Population Forecasts, which look as far out as 2040. Data updated last fall is available at the county level.

What does the state project for the Boulder Valley and beyond? The July 2010 projection had Boulder County’s population at 295,605, with Broomfield at 56,107. Looking forward just 27 years from 2013, we can expect those numbers to reach 390,228 and 85,825, respectively. That means a combined population of 476,053 in 2040, up from 2010’s 351,712.

Up north, Larimer and Weld counties are projected for even more dramatic growth. Larimer County’s projection for 2010 was 300,532, with Weld County at 254,230, for a combined 554,762. Fast forward to 2040, when the state projects Larimer at 481,193 and Weld at 567,218. That’s a combined 1,048,411.

That’s right: more than a million people in the two counties to the north and east of the Boulder Valley. Much of the growth in Weld County is anticipated to occur in southwestern Weld, abutting both Boulder and Broomfield counties.

Already, municipalities such as Longmont, Erie, Frederick, Firestone, Dacono, Broomfield and Lafayette see increasing patterns of commuting and business connections. County lines are blurring or — in the case of Erie — dissecting communities.

Another half million people in Larimer and Weld counties are bound to affect the Boulder Valley in terms of demand for housing, retail, office space, job growth, transportation, health care and every other sector that feeds a fast-growing population.

It’s why nascent efforts at regional transportation such as the FLEX bus system linking Fort Collins to Longmont are worthy of study and support. Demand inevitably will increase for such services as population booms.

Likewise, it’s not without knowledge of demographic trends that multiple hospital systems are eyeing the Interstate 25 corridor in Weld and Broomfield counties. Longmont United Hospital’s Indian Peaks Medical Center in Frederick eventually could be joined by new facilities UCHealth in Broomfield and Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in Frederick.

Retail probably is overbuilt in our greater region today, but the need for new construction will resume as the population increases. We’re already seeing demand for housing pick up, with huge new developments under way in Erie and elsewhere. School districts will have to provide new facilities for K-12 education throughout our region.

Schools. Traffic. Housing. Employment. Health care. Population growth such as that anticipated in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado will bring with it many benefits, but also many challenges. Business, government and civic leaders would do well to consider how this growth would affect our economy and our lives.    

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-440-4950 or cwood@bcbr.com.

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