Delta: farm town becomes a regional destination
Like most towns on the Western Slope, Delta is growing. And yes, some of their growth can be traced to the energy industry. Coal mining has been a steady contributor to the Delta County economy for years, and now Delta is starting to see support services for the oil and gas energy open offices in Delta.
Watson Hopper, a manufacturer of oilfield equipment, opened a Delta facility a year and a half ago. The company wanted an additional presence in the Rocky Mountain area, yet wanted to be far enough away from the Piceance Basin in hopes that they would attract a sufficient labor pool. Although they had no problems staffing the first 15 positions, the next ten available positions may be harder to fill as the Delta unemployment rate drops.
“If you want a job, you should easily be able to find one,” says Glen Black, the director of city planning with the city of Delta. And it’s not just the mines and manufacturing that are having a hard time finding employees in Delta. Construction jobs are becoming harder to fill, too, and houses are selling as rapidly as they are built.
“This is by far the most single family home starts we’ve ever seen, and it just doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” says Black. In 2001, there were nine single-family building permits issued; so far in 2006, there have been over 100.
“The market is coming, but it’s not what everybody wants it to be yet,” says Brian Mason with Mason Real Estate. Although both residential and commercial activity is increasing in Delta, Mason says both Grand Junction and Montrose are hotter markets. His office has seen several mountain ranch properties sell to investment buyers who are interested in the hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities available in Delta County, however.
River Walk, a new subdivision of almost 250 lots, was recently approved by the city of Delta. The subdivision will include a few higher density homes, and will be south of town on 1600 Road. Stone Mountain Ranch, a subdivision north of Delta, recently got approval to develop another 115 lots, while Fox Hollow is going in on the east side of Delta.
Although new housing is starting on all sides of Delta, most of the commercial growth is happening along Highway 92 near the Wal-mart store, which opened in 2004.
“Wal-mart has done a lot for the economy in Delta,” says Black, “Most of the businesses have benefited from it.” Before Wal-mart moved to Delta, people from Paonia, Crawford and other Delta County communities were driving through Delta to get to Grand Junction or Montrose. Now, they’re stopping in Delta not just to shop, but to eat and go to the movies.
Residents from outlying areas can now make Delta their destination for more medical visits, too. Delta built a new hospital in 2004, and has added additional radiology and oncology services. The hospital has plans to begin construction of a surgical center in 2007, and begin construction on the third floor of the new hospital (it was designed with third floor expansion in mind) in 2008.
“What used to be a disadvantage for us as far as recruiting is now an advantage,” says Kathy Sramek, education and marketing director for Delta County Memorial Hospital. The small town, with its low crime rate and all the nearby recreational activities, is a big recruiting tool for young medical professionals who want to be able to ski, hike, bike, or enjoy water sports in their spare time. “All these wonderful things are ten minutes outside your door,” Sramek says.
Delta County voters have had the foresight to keep the school district ahead of growth, passing a bond issue in 2002 which appropriated money for new middle schools in Delta and Cedaredge, new classrooms in Paonia, and a new K-8 school in Hotchkiss. The district serves more than 5400 students in an 1800 square mile area.
The old middle school in Delta was remodeled with both bond and grant money and turned into the Delta County Center for Performing Arts and Education, to be used by the community and the school district. The building is also used for the district preschool program and for Head Start. The preschool program serves more than 500 preschool students through its Backpack Box Program, sending boxes of themed educational materials to preschool students throughout the district every month.
Although Delta is growing and changing as people from outside the area discover Delta County, the area is trying to maintain its ties to agriculture.
“We respect our agricultural heritage in Delta, and we really want to make sure that stays prominent,” says Deanna Sheriff, with Delta Area Development, Inc. “People are beginning to understand that they can actually make a go of it in a niche market.”
Niche market agriculture includes wineries, organic growers, growing for renewable energy, and other non-traditional markets. “We’re looking at ways that we can make it interesting for the next generation so that they’ll stay in agriculture,” she adds. Delta is still a small, agricultural town, with cornfields surrounding the town.
Commercial development is slower, residential prices are lower, and the two-year-old Wal-mart is still big news. The small-town atmosphere is enough to attract commuters who don’t mind driving Highway 50 to Grand Junction every day, and it’s definitely a strong enough pull to attract newcomers to town who are looking not just for reasonable real estate but a great life.