At one time, Routt and Moffat counties were one big county with a collective interest in agriculture.
Map lines and industries have changed, but statistics and other signals suggest the two counties are as connected as ever.
Every day, Moffat County residents file onto buses headed east, where they work at hotels, restaurants, construction sites and other jobs in fast-growing Steamboat Springs.
At the same time, Routt County farmers and ranchers head to Moffat County, where there is a grain elevator and more feed, equipment and other agriculture-related businesses.
Both counties find themselves struggling to meet health and education needs of immigrant workers as well as residents who don't have health benefits.
The potential domino effect of these and other issues in a changing economy emphasizes the need for collaborative planning that transcends county boundaries and reaches for solutions, community leaders say.
That is the purpose of the 2005 Regional Leadership Summit -- to bring businesses, government officials, nonprofits and concerned residents together to explore issues affecting residents throughout the Yampa Valley.
The basis for the October meetings is the 2005-06 Community Indicators Project, a compilation of economic, social, environmental and civic information that shows how the valley is changing and the implication of those changes on communities.
The nonprofit Yampa Valley Partners published the report.
The work force
Perhaps nowhere is the Moffat-Routt connection more apparent than in the work force.
In 2000, the percentage of Moffat County residents who commuted to Routt County for work increased from 3 percent to more than 21 percent, according to the Community Indicators Report.
Driving the demand for workers is an influx of "new money" brought by location-neutral businesses and part-time residents, said Scott Ford of the Small Business Development Center at Colorado Mountain College.
The local work force is not filling the demand for construction crews needed to build new homes or workers needed to fill service jobs in an increasingly year-round tourism industry.
"When the labor force is scarce, employers begin to compete ... wages go up enough that it becomes worth it to drive from Moffat," Ford said.
However, increased natural gas drilling, construction of an oil pipeline and rising demand for coal suggests fewer Moffat County residents will be available for Routt County jobs, said Marianna Raftopoulos, a representative for Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas.
At the same time, there is no sign the influx of new money, particularly from retiring baby boomers, will taper off in Routt County, Ford said.
Labor-intensive industries will have problems finding workers, as well people for "Tier 2" jobs -- dental hygienists, bank tellers, teachers, etc. -- typically filled by people ages 25 to 45, a scarce demographic.
"When we lose those folks, we're not going to just mail order bank tellers and hygienists," Ford said.
Concerns stemming from a commuting work force extend beyond the market.
The work force's demand on Moffat County health care and social services is a big issue, said Raftopoulos, a former Moffat County commissioner.
Many workers are commuting to service-oriented jobs that tend to have minimal, if any, benefits. It's questionable whether those workers are spending enough tax dollars in Moffat County to account for the burden on services, she said.
"There's situations and issues we have to solve," Raftopoulos said. "If we are taking the burden without getting all the benefits, it's really a problem."
Both counties also are contending with the health and education demands of immigrants, though more of the load tends to fall on Moffat County.
Summer Laws, director of Communidad Integrada, has estimated Spanish speakers make up 5 percent of Routt County's population and 15 percent of Moffat County's population.
At the same time, all but about 10 percent of Craig's Hispanic residents work outside Moffat County, according to estimates from April Valencia, cultural diversity coordinator with the Workforce Center of Colorado.
Community leaders also point to the toll commuting can take on families and the social fabric of neighborhoods and communities.
It's hard to integrate people who leave early and get home late, Raftopoulos said.
Involvement in government and other groups is a key part of maintaining pride and the unique character of communities, said Audrey Danner, executive director of Yampa Valley Partners.
Northwest Colorado communities have set a good precedent for teamwork.
In 2000, for example, the Yampa Valley Economic Development Council -- composed of representatives from Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties -- worked to secure a $1.4 million grant to bring high-speed Internet to the region, Raftopoulos said.
Other regional projects include cultural heritage tourism, a campaign to attract tourists to unique sites in each Northwest Colorado community.
Yet, Raftopoulos, Danner and others emphasize more collaboration is needed among governments, organizations and residents to begin planning for the future.
"There's no one right answer, but together we can begin to address these for the betterment of our communities," she said.
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail email@example.com