By the Numbers: Routt County’s census and economic migration



Scott Ford

— At its simplest level, economic analysis counts bucks (the dollars) and bodies (the people associated with those dollars). One of the most interesting data sets released to the public annually combines both. This data set is the IRS master file, and new data was released in July.

This data set is the annual collection of a host of information extracted from the individual form 1040 filed by taxpayers across the nation. As you can imagine, there are all sorts of data goodies contained in this file (no names, only aggregated data). One of the data elements in this massive file is county-to-county migration data. Simply put, this shows from one year to the next who moved into the county, who moved out of the county and who stayed put.

A deeper look at this data allows us to see not only the number of people (bodies) but the adjusted gross income (bucks) associated with these folks. The data shows the moving activity that occurred within the state and also out of the state of Colorado as well as what occurred in Routt County.

This level of data is valuable because when averaged on a per-return (household) basis, it provides insight to see whether lower or higher income households are coming or going, where are they going and where are they from.

In Routt County from the 2004 through 2010, 6,148 households moved in and 5,630 moved out for a net gain of 518. When viewed from an income perspective, the households moving in brought in an aggregate $350 million and those moving out took $240 million for a net gain to the county of more than $100 million. At the individual household level, the households moving in had annual income of about $57,000 on average compared with $43,000 on average annually for those leaving.

Of the 6,148 households that moved into the area during this period, about 60 percent arrived from out of state. Folks who moved from within Colorado accounted for 35 percent, and those arriving from a foreign country accounted for 5 percent.

Of the $350 million in household income, 62 percent was associated with folks arriving from out of state. Those folks who lived somewhere in Colorado before moving to Routt County represented 37 percent of the total income. Those moving here from a foreign country represented less than 1 percent.

For each of the years in this period, the number of dependents claimed by those moving in exceeded the number of dependents claimed by those moving out on average. This is most likely because households with dependent children are moving into the area in greater numbers than those moving out.

Scott L. Ford has lived in Steamboat Springs for 21 years and is the principal partner in The Pinnacle Economic Research Group. Ford can be reached at


Stuart Orzach 2 years, 2 months ago


This supports my contention that we are a colony, not a community.
Could you please use the average number of people per household to impute the rate at which our population is churning? Who benefits from this instability? Dollars are fungible, but people are decidedly not.


Scott Ford 2 years, 2 months ago

Stuart - As always a great question. Essentially what is being asked is the community's turn-over rate. If we approach this on the same basis an employer would look at their turn over rate I think it is going to be pretty close to 10%.

What I do not know and I think we need to have is what is Routt County's household turn-over rate compared to places like us in Colorado such as La Plata County (Durango) or Gunnison County. It will take me a wee-bit of time to dig into the data to do this analysis. - I will post it here.

I think you and will continue to have the debate as to whether we live in a community or a colony. Without question I would agree with your colony perspective on the grand scale of things. However, I think you would need to agree that there are likely communities within the colony.


Stuart Orzach 2 years, 1 month ago

Unfortunately, the meaning of the word "community" has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness. "Community" lingers as one of those warm, fuzzy buzz words that people use to dress up whatever interest they are promoting. Also, hidden in plain sight in your overview of the IRS master file is the phenomenon of gentrification.


Michael Bird 2 years, 1 month ago

Scott, What is the population of SBoat and Routt County ? And your estimate of both as of 8-1-13? TKS


Scott Ford 2 years, 1 month ago

Hi Michael- The population of Routt County is estimated at 23,250 (this is a best estimated based on the IRS file and modeling the US Census Bureau does. The CCD of Steamboat Springs which would include not only Steamboat Springs but areas close but outside of the city limits of Steamboat Springs such as Steamboat II; Treehaus; Heritage Park; Silver Spur; Milner is about 18,500. The population of City of Steamboat Springs (within the city limits) is about 12,000. All these estimates are not perfect – but they are likely within 10% +/-.
An element of our population that is hard to calculate is our part-time residents. They are definitely residents – they just do not live here year round. Many of them view this area as their home – therefore I like to describe them as part-time residents and not second home owners. One of the key characteristics of our part-time residents that is not seen to the same degree in other Colorado Mountain towns such as Vail – Telluride is that a higher percentage of our part-time residents are in-bound who eventual plan to be full time residents. (Source: Northwest Colorado Second Home Study)

From my experience many of this group identifies the Steamboat Springs area as more of their “home-town” than the town they may currently living in. How often have we heard something like this, “I am currently living in Nashville (fill in the blank), we own a home here and we are planning on moving here – this is our home.”


Scott Ford 2 years, 1 month ago

Hi Stuart – Gentrification has been occurring for some time in the Steamboat Springs area. It has been occurring likely over the past 25 to 30 years. It is nothing new. Simply put, on average those moving into the area are more affluent as a whole than those moving out. As I referenced in the column the net gain to Routt County 2004-2010 has been about $100 million dollars. This represents about 8% of the county’s total household income currently at $1.3 billion.

Another measurement of this “gentrification” is the growth in pre-capita income. (A blunt measurement to be sure – never the less it has value.) Ten years ago out of the 64 Colorado counties Routt Ranked 11th in per capita income it now ranks 9th our 8th. Per capita income has been increasing at a rate 2X the state rate and 3X national rate.

One of the key characteristics is the source of the increase is mostly from increases in labor source income. Some of this can be attributed to the growth of the LNBs in our area. In the economy of Routt County LNBs are a very good thing. The stabilizing effect this group has had on the local economy is often discounted and it should not be. To put it simply LNBs bring income from very diverse industry sectors.


mark hartless 2 years, 1 month ago

The exact same things are happening nationwide. "Gentrification", I think you guys called it... how and why communities fracture and remake themselves...

Charles Murray wrote an in-depth book about it a couple years ago called "Comming Apart". His research and conclusions are sound, and they are sobering.

For many of us they come as no surprise. Others might be astounded or in denial about where we are as an American "community".

I highly recommend that book. It was excellent on this subject.


Stuart Orzach 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for the book recommendation Mark. it sounds like it's worth reading.
Second home owners are one group that resides here for a portion of the year. I wouldn't lump them in with full time residents regardless of how they self-identify. Speaking of coming apart, I am reminded of Economist Robert Reich's recent assertion that what's good for the economy and what's good for people have divorced.
Economics is more a belief system than a science. For some, it's a religion. Maybe you could be our local Shaman, Scott. I'd vote for you!


mark hartless 2 years, 1 month ago

In some ways economcs might be about beliefs, but there are more than a few absolutes in that field of study,

For example: There will ALWAYS be scarcity and that is probably the main principle of economics... that man must make choices because there really are not any complete "solutions".

This is a reality of economics, not a "belief system". Triage on the batlefeld is an excellent example of economics.


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