Colorado has been living in a dream that is soon going to end, the state demographer told the Economic Development Council of Colorados conference in Durango on Thursday.
Elizabeth Garner said the natural aging of state residents will have effects the state has never experienced before. This is because, for years, the state has had a demographic dividend a relatively young population that has provided a healthy, productive workforce.
Now were going to shift out of that, she said, and the state needs to adapt. We need to be strategic, we need to be making some really good choices because we dont have that dividend anymore. Were done with that comparative advantage weve had for 30 years.
The trend is caused in large part to the aging of the states baby boomer population, which is just starting to reach the age of retirement, Garner said.
By 2030, U.S. Census data shows the states population of people age 65 and older will be 150 percent larger than 2010.
One of the biggest areas affected will be the states labor force, Garner said. About 1 million workers will be aging out of the labor force in the next 20 years, she said.
This movement poses a challenge to the states educational system to prepare its younger populations to fill the positions that highly educated baby boomers will soon be leaving, Garner said.
A growing senior population will also create a larger demand for specific occupations and industries such as doctors, home health aids, tourism and technology. In general, older people purchase more services than goods, which will affect industries in the economy as well as the sales-tax revenue, she said.
Communities looking to attract and support this aging population, will need to be providing alternative transportation, assisted-living options and Medicare doctors, Garner said.
In La Plata Countys case, housing officials and developers need to put much more of a focus on creating new housing options for an aging population, said Laura Lewis Marchino, assistant director of Region 9 Economic Development District.
Were going to have more than enough single-family homes (in the future), Marchino said. Our emphasis now needs to be on transitioning the types of homes we build.
Right now, the county gets many young retirees, but there arent many housing options, like assisted-living facilities, once these people get older, she said.
As our general population ages, the state also is becoming more diverse, Garner said. Colorados Hispanic population increased 41 percent while the states population growth was 16.9 percent, according to U.S. Census data. The majority of the growth in Hispanic populations occurred in the younger-than-18 age group, according to the data.
This age group is where were going to see growing diversity in Colorado, Garner said.
While posing a language barrier challenge, La Plata Countys growing Hispanic and Latino population can be a resource to help establish trade connections with individuals home countries, said Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata Economic Development Alliance.
New people can help us open up more markets, Zalneraitis said. Its a great opportunity.
He also was optimistic about the statistic that Colorados relatively low unemployment compared to the rest of the nation has attracted workers to the state. Following the same logic, La Plata Countys relatively low unemployment rate in Colorado could make it a good prospect for attracting people and industries, he said.
And though the states population is aging, Zalneraitis said La Plata County may not necessarily follow the same patterns if it chooses not to.
What industries you create determines the demographics and who were attractive to, he said. Just because the states population is aging doesnt mean thats where we have to go.
The three-day conference focuses on networking, economic-development issues and education and legislative advocacy.