Population slowdown in county?

The population spike that accompanied Mesa County’s boom economy is showing signs of easing with the economic slowdown.

The Colorado State Demographer’s Office is expecting the county’s population growth to slow through 2019, suggesting that the trend might be picked up in the 2020 census.

“We anticipate slower growth in Colorado and anticipate it would be the same in Mesa County,” state demographer Elizabeth Garner said.

The growth rate might fall from about 4,000 new Mesa County residents last year to 3,000 this year, Garner said. Likewise, the 1,500 new residents in Grand Junction will slip to 1,000, Garner said.

“But there won’t be an out-migration,” she said, meaning there won’t be a net reduction in population.

Not everyone is convinced that the county isn’t seeing something more than a slowdown, though.

“There are people trickling in, but it doesn’t equal what’s leaving,” said Bob Scott, general manager of Bailey’s Moving & Storage, 1257 Winters Ave.

People still are moving into Mesa County, said Duke Wortman of Mesa Systems Moving and Storage, 681 Railroad Blvd., but there’s a difference between the salary and responsibility levels of the people leaving and those coming in.

“There has been somewhere between 250 and 400 moving out in the upper reaches” of management of energy-related companies, Wortman said.

Those people are being replaced to some extent, but by people who occupy lower rungs on the corporate ladder, Wortman said.

“We’re seeing a brain drain for sure,” Wortman said.

There are other indicators of slowing growth patterns in the Grand Valley, including a forecast by School District 51 that enrollment in the district will shrink next year by 200 students.

The state demographer’s data also show that wage and salary employment in Mesa County fell by 2.1 percent, or 1,281 jobs, from fall 2008 to fall 2009.

Observers can read too much into data such as the drop in jobs, Garner said, especially if the lost jobs belonged to people who never became residents of Colorado, preferring to maintain their residences in other states such as Texas, Oklahoma or Louisiana.

Voter-registration data, though not used routinely for demographic research, offers some close-to-real-time data on movement into and out of Mesa County.

In 2009, the number of undeliverable ballots returned to the Mesa County Clerk’s Office was 10 percent, or three percentage points higher than the normal 7 percent return rate, Chief Deputy Clerk Sheila Reiner said.

The 7,681 ballots returned to the clerk were undeliverable because the addressees had moved, Reiner said.

A new statewide voter-registration system allows for another view into statewide demographics and suggests that much of Mesa County’s population-growth momentum has slipped.

Internal Revenue Service data used by the state demographer shows Mesa County’s net migration change was an increase of 2,900 from 2007 to 2008.

“Net migration continued to increase between ‘08-‘09 to around 3,700,” Garner wrote in an e-mail about July-to-July comparisons. “Population change does tend to lag economic change, so we do expect slowing between 2009 and 2019.”

“Our short-term forecasts do not have the county declining,” Garner said.

Voter-registration figures generated by the statewide system show a net increase of 48 voters in Mesa County during the November 2008 to November 2009 period.

The demographer’s office hasn’t used voter-registration data in the past, but might now start looking at it, Garner said.

The steep drop in voter-registration data for the November 2008 to November 2009 period shows a marked difference between the IRS data for the period a year before.

That data showed 3,500 people moving out of state from Mesa County and 5,500 moving in from other states. While 2,500 moved from Mesa County to other counties in Colorado, the change was more than balanced by 3,400 moving into the county from other locations in Colorado.

Comparable new data will be available in the fall, Garner said.

Among people he’s worked with, Wortman said, there is sorrow at having to move.

“They say this is the best oil and gas town to live in,” Wortman said, “and that they’d love to come back.”


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