The need for economic diversification is prevalent in energy-dependent Moffat County, and facilitating that diversification is a priority for the Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Partnership and other economic development groups.
New data shows an opportunity for diversification that has immense payback for little investment. More, it builds upon many the "quality of life" amenities that already exist in Moffat County.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is in the process of conducting a study on the economic impact of second homes. The results have astounded participants.
"We've been finding out some incredible things about second homes," said Gary Severson, member of the Northwest Council of Governments. "We're finding that second homes are an industry unto themselves. We think second homes pump more into the economy than resorts do."
Severson said the preliminary figures indicate second homes are a $1.5 billion a year industry for the four counties surveyed, compared to the $1.6 billion full-time residents contribute.
"It's pretty incredible the amount of money second homes pump into the economy," he said.
That figure doesn't include county sales or property tax. It's based on purchases and jobs created.
Eagle, Grand, Pitkin and Summit counties were the four included in the study, but officials can already see the potential impact on Moffat and Routt counties.
"(This study) is really important to us," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said. "We'll see more of those people moving down here as the valley grows. People say we're about 15 years behind the Vail area."
Moffat County has several of the amenities that draw second homeowners. The survey lists the primary reasons people choose a certain area. The No. 1 reason was the number of recreational amenities, followed by the scenery, summer weather, the small-town atmosphere and winter activities.
"People came for the winter and stayed for the summer," Severson said. "Colorado summers are like no place else on Earth."
Raftopoulos said the data gives Moffat County direction and the opportunity to prepare in terms of infrastructure, zoning and amenities.
"With that information, I think we can know how our growth will proceed," she said. "We can do it the right way by making sure we have the pieces in place."
Raftopoulos said the area must also make strides in health care, social services and affordable housing before the influx of second homes hits, and she thinks it will.
As more and more people are drawn to Steamboat Springs, she expects them to look to Craig for more affordable property. She also sees that as being a benefit to Moffat County and something it should work toward.
"Recreational amenities are the No. 1 draw," she said. "We need to look at those amenities and start building that infrastructure to bring people here and get them to stay."
Severson said owners of second homes are a healthy, active population looking for recreation amenities -- with walking paths being the most sought-after.
Of the four counties included in the study, more than 50 percent of the homes in three of them are second homes. In the last, 49 percent of its homes are second homes.
"We don't see any downturn in the strength of that market for the next 10 years," Severson said.
Most of the second homes were not used as rentals and more than 50 percent of the closings were done in cash.
"It's a major, major industry," Severson said.
Raftopoulos believes that Moffat County, though the Economic Development Partnership, now has the mechanism to capitalize on a growing market for second homes in Colorado.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.