Slopeslide Grill patrons soak up the sun Friday afternoon at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The ski area had an 8 percent share of Colorado skier days during the 2007-08 season, according to a recently completed Yampa Valley Partners Economic Indicators report.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Slopeslide Grill patrons soak up the sun Friday afternoon at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. The ski area had an 8 percent share of Colorado skier days during the 2007-08 season, according to a recently completed Yampa Valley Partners Economic Indicators report.

Study backs economic trends across region

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— Scott Ford says he's never met a chart he didn't like.

Ford has had plenty of chances to test that informational romance theory while poring through data about Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties for Yampa Valley Partners' Community Indicators Project. The annual report, which appears in a magazine in Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today, includes sections on economic, environmental, civic and social indicators. Ford, a consultant who collected much of the data, sat down recently to discuss the economic trends.

A big one, he said, is the residential lifestyle economy. People are migrating to Routt County and often aren't dependent on the local economy for their livelihood, Ford said.

"That migration is probably going to be one of the more significant economic drivers for us as we move into the future, so it was important to quantify it," he said. "Like most things in the economy, nothing is independent. They're always highly related. This residential lifestyle economy has emerged because we're a beautiful place to live, but we've also created a lot of cultural things that people can enjoy."

For the first time, Ford was able to measure that in-migration this year. He could see new Routt residents' former locations and income, as long as more than 10 tax returns were filed from the person's previous county.

Routt County tends to see an influx of people during recessions, Ford said. That's partly because people who can afford to do so leave their jobs and head for a beautiful area. Ford said that lifestyle economy group could butt heads with industries that rely on, say, skier visits and Triple Crown.

Wealthy migrants to the area often are seeking relative solitude rather than the crowds that drive a tourism-based economy.

In 2007, Routt County gained $23.5 million in personal income because of migration, according to the report. Moffat's gain was $900,000, and Rio Blanco's was $400,000.

The people coming in are richer than those leaving, Ford said. According to Internal Revenue Service information, the average adjusted gross income of the tax returns was about $63,000 for people entering Routt and about $47,000 for people leaving.

"There's no value judgment placed on this," he noted. "We never say that's a good thing, that's a bad thing. We just say this is happening."

Audrey Danner, the outgoing executive director of Yampa Valley Partners and a Moffat County commissioner, said the report provided a valleywide view.

"As we look at the relationships from Moffat to Rio Blanco and Moffat to Routt and what that looks like as far as work force movement, dollars, the changing economy and the types of jobs available in those counties : it's a very unique perspective," Danner said.

The group formed a larger team this year to prioritize and gauge the issues, she said.

"Our intention is to have this report be useful for decision makers, whether it's a business looking at how they can strengthen their business within a community, within an area : and also the fact that local governments can see the dollars and the movement of people," she said.

The report sometimes provides data backing what people already see, Ford said. Routt County exported $47 million to other counties in 2006.

Moffat imported $62 million the same year. The information also shows that hundreds of Moffat residents worked in other counties in 2000.

"A lot of things we talk about anecdotally, we actually have facts and figures for them," Ford said.

Another crucial trend, Ford said, is economic diversification. Regions can determine diversity in part by looking at their top industries. As those account for less total income and fewer jobs, the economy grows more diverse.

The Community Indicators report shows that in 2006, construction, accommodations and food services, and real estate and leasing represented 42 percent of private-sector jobs in Routt County. That's down from 44 percent in 2001.

"Where we're diversifying is in the growth of these location-neutral businesses and location-neutral employees," Ford said.

Diversification will help the economy along during the national recession, he noted.

The information in the Community Indicators report gives Ford reason to hope for the best.

"From a practical standpoint, I'm real optimistic about where we're headed," he said. "It doesn't mean we don't have our challenges. : The list is long, there's no doubt about it. But our issues - there are communities across the nation that would trade for our problems."

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234 or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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