Weld County tops state in population growth, ranks No. 4 in nation | MyWindsorNow.com

Weld County tops state in population growth, ranks No. 4 in nation

Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

If you thought Weld County was awash in big trucks and a growing herd of oil field workers, that may not be far from the truth.

The county was listed this week as the fourth fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area in the United States, gaining population at a 3.5 percent clip from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016, while other oil-rich areas along the Rocky Mountains lost population in that time.

Oil field workers tend to migrate where the work is, but it's not often documented. While the phenomenon of the traveling oil and gas fleets is more anecdotal, there could be some truth to it fueling Weld's population.

"I was just out on Western Slope, when I'm in Montrose County or Mesa, people often talk about when their economy started to suffer, all the people were migrating to North Dakota to work in oil fields or as contractors out there," said Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the Business Research division of the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business. "We know that the phenomenon happens, but it's hard to say your gain is Wyoming's loss."

In the 12-month period, the U.S. Census estimated Weld's population grew by 9,879 people — that includes 4,106 births and 1,725 deaths.

State demographers blame the bulk of the growth on migration; indeed, Weld saw its numbers swell by 7,300 in the study period, 6,991 of which were domestic migrations, and 390 more that were international, according to the U.S. Census bureau.

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Just looking at population changes among the region's larger oil fields, their losses may indeed have become Weld's gain. Together, four oil-and-gas-rich metro areas in Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah lost 4,284 people in the same time that Weld gained. Other oil areas in Texas also saw big population losses, but other oil areas down south grew substantially in that time and likely absorbed those losses.

Official numbers on job growth in the oil and gas industry have not yet mirrored the population growth, but that is likely about to change. Since the beginning of the year, Weld's job picture began looking up — dramatically.

The number of oil and gas related jobs offered through Employment Services of Weld County has already spiked. In the first quarter of the year, there were 166 jobs in the field up for grabs, compared to just 51 at the same time last year, said Lora Lawrence, business services manager for Employment Services of Weld County. Likewise, oil and gas employers make up a good third of the twice-monthly job fairs through the agency.

"It is encouraging as far as the energy sector as a whole," Lawrence said. "Without a doubt we have certainly seen an increase in oil and gas employers signing up for onsite job fairs. We have two per month, and we have seen 15 employers in the first quarter. That is a significant increase over this time last year — at least double."

Lawrence said the agency is looking to create a larger job fair in June to accommodate the growing number of oil and gas employers looking.

"It really is very exciting to see the response we're getting from employers right now," she said.

Colorado's rig count also is growing. Colorado started the month with 25 rigs, and ended Friday with 30. Wyoming, on the other hand, reduced its rigs by one to 16 from the beginning of the month. Each rig supports about 100 jobs.

Meanwhile, surrounding energy states have been losing jobs, Lewandowski said.

"Wyoming is still losing jobs, New Mexico is still losing jobs and North Dakota, too," Lewandowski said. "If you look at the energy intensive economies, they have been losing jobs year over year."

Weld County, Lewandowski said, is buffered by its diversity. Once primarily an agriculture-based county, Weld now has a strong mix of ag, oil and gas, manufacturing and health-related industries, which remained strong even with an oil and gas downturn in the last two years.

"People didn't stop moving there, so you were much more buffered on the downside than I expected," Lewandowski said. "The fact that you're still growing jobs year over year, that's really important."

Frankly, said Richard Werner said, CEO and president of Upstate Colorado Economic Development, growth begets growth.

"When you have a thriving economy, it produces opportunities," Werner said. "You have indirect economic benefits as well. So people are coming in with new retail opportunities, new housing opportunities, all of those things because the job market is so strong."

The red flag in the growth, obviously, is the demand and strain it puts on the area's infrastructure, housing prices and workforce.

"We're starting to see more and more congestion on the roads. Housing prices is another concern. For companies, available workforce is a concern," Werner said.

Weld County is still considered more affordable than other northern Colorado areas, but demand is pushing up prices. The diversity of Weld's housing options helps attract people here, as well, Werner said. While there is low inventory of available homes for sale, there's also enough multi-family housing to fill the gaps.

Werner said one main concern is educating a workforce for the available jobs that come to the area

"You need to make sure you're creating alignment in the educational system, so that the people coming out of the education system are prepared to work jobs that need to be filled," Werner said. "There's plenty of available jobs, and plenty of people but no alignment. It's a problem here and northern Colorado as a whole."

Colorado population changes

The U.S. Census Bureau looked at population changes from July 1, 2015, to July 1, 2016. Weld County was noted as having the fourth fastest-growing population in that time across the country. Here are some significant findings in Colorado’s population growth:

Weld County — 294,932 + 9,879 people (3.5 percent)

Fort Collins — 339,993 +6,124 people (1.8 percent)

Denver-Aurora-Lakewood — 2,853,077 +44,261 people (1.6 percent)

Boulder — 322,226 + 3,488 people (1.1 percent)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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Population changes in oil and gas dense areas

Area / Population / Percent change

Weld County / 294,932 / + 9,879 (+3.5 percent)

Rock Springs, Wyo. / 44,165 / -528 (-1.2 percent)

Casper, Wyo. / 81,039 / -1,152 (1.4 percent)

Minot, N.D. / 78,723 / -1,188 (-1.5 percent)

Vernal, Utah / 36,373 / -1,416 (-3.7 percent)

Odessa, Texas / 157,462 / -2,227 (-1.4 percent)

Midland, Texas / 168,288 (+0.77 percent)

San Antonio, Texas / 2,429,609 / +1,293 (+2 percent)

Corpus Christi, Texas / 454,726 / +1,991 (+0.44 percent)

Oklahoma City / 1,373,211 / +16,246 (+1.2 percent)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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