We’re small but No. 1

Durango named top ‘micropolitan’ area in U.S.

It’s about quality, not quantity, is the takeaway message of an economic study that named our community the top “micropolitan” area in the United States.

A micropolitan area is defined as one with a population of less than 50,000 people.

Policom, an independent economic research firm specializing in local and state economies, did an analysis that ranked Durango No. 1 out of 576 micropolitan areas studied.

Data used for the study included not just Durango, but all of La Plata County.

“It’s outstanding that La Plata County is ranked so high,” said Joanne Spina, interim county manager. “We’ve been in the top 10 for the past four years and (the ranking) speaks to the diversity of our economic base.”

Durango debuted in the top 10 in 2008 at No. 8. The city has continued to climb, reaching No. 3 last year.

“It’s not unusual for Durango to go to the top,” said William Fruth, president of Policom. “Over an extended period of time, it’s shown a tendency of having consistent economic growth in size and quality.”

The study looked at 23 different economic factors, including wages and earnings. The amount of public assistance going into each community also was factored in. Durango scored low in this sector, which reflects a strong economy, Fruth said.

The Durango area has the second lowest per capita amount of Medicaid dollars coming in of any micropolitan area and one of the lowest per capita amounts of welfare dollars.

Durango also scored well in earnings and wages, despite the city’s reputation of requiring people to have two or more jobs to make ends meet.

In 2009, Durango’s average wage was 76 percent of the national wage.

“Durango has improved relative to the national average wage every year for 10 years,” Fruth said. “It’s a sign that the quality of the economy has been improving.”

What industries pushed Durango to the top?

The No. 1 primary industry in the Durango area is “mining,” or the extraction of natural gas. It accounts for 33 percent of the economy, with state government close behind.

Farming accounts for about 10 percent, according to Fruth.

Despite the decline in natural-gas prices, Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn thinks gas will continue to stimulate the economy, and BP, the county’s largest producer, will remain for the long haul.

“BP will continue drilling in La Plata County as San Juan produces the most natural gas with the least amount of wells,” he said. “BP took rigs to Pennsylvania, but they are still using rigs to clean up wells here.”

Another Colorado city, Edwards, fell from first to ninth for micropolitan areas and is the only other city in the state to make the top 10.

The study measures economic factors over a 20-year period. This year’s study took data from 1990 to 2009 – the most recent data released.

Data analyzed was from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Policom first ranked micropolitan areas in 2002.

jdahl@durangoherald.com

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