Audrey Danner, Moffat County commissioner and executive director for Yampa Valley Partners, often says communities must communicate.
She hopes the Community Indicators Report, released today in Moffat County, can help provide the raw information that fosters more informed discussions on Northwest Colorado's strengths and weaknesses in the future.
Those two areas are not exclusive from one another, however.
What could be a strength in one sense - such as the local mining industry's relatively high wages - can be a weakness in other ways - such as the local economy's dependence on finite natural resources.
Danner said the Indicators Report shows that no one issue is isolated from the issues around it. The important thing is to recognize that each issue links to all others in some way, she said.
For instance, looking at different wages can show how social trends come to exist and define certain communities, as well as how communities define their future.
"Everything is interconnected, and it all relates to each other," Danner said with a smile.
Accommodation and food service is the lowest-paying industry for Moffat County residents, with an average wage of $6.26 an hour. About 9.4 percent of the county's recorded work force works in this sector.
Although this situation may appear negative, it presents the community with benefits and challenges.
Low wages and government spending
Accommodation and food service jobs can be linked to Moffat County's position as the largest receiver of federal assistance programs.
Although one of the area's largest employers, accommodation and food service is the only industry that pays less than what the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute considers a good enough wage for a single person to be self-sufficient.
According to the state agency, a Moffat County resident would need to make at least $7.84 an hour, or $16,563 annually, to be able to survive without any outside assistance. This is about $3,500 more a year than an average Moffat County resident working in a hotel or food service business would earn.
The Indicators Report shows the U.S. government spent more money in Moffat County than either Routt or Rio Blanco counties from 2003 to 2007, despite Moffat County having about half the population of Routt County.
Although Rio Blanco County has fewer residents, the government still spent more per capita on social programs in Moffat County.
Advantages and costs
Moffat County also offers the cheapest housing in the region, which could make it a viable place for low-income earners to live.
A large part of the Indicators Report is dedicated to worker migration, or people who live in one county and work in another. Moffat County is the only regional economy that makes a net profit from this dynamic.
In 2006, Moffat County residents brought in a net $62.4 million from jobs they worked in other places, which helps expand the local economy by increasing the community's available income. By contrast, Routt County's economy lost a net $47.1 million the same year.
The Indicators Report suggests this economic boon for Moffat County also may require some government and/or private investment to maintain, however.
Regional bus ridership increased 300 percent from 1995 to 2007, which could mean the service will need to be expanded in the future. The region's highways also could become increasingly important to each county's economy.
"This is one of the reasons why transportation funding is and will be very important to us going forward," Danner said. "We will need to watch how that issue plays out in the state and federal legislatures."
Not one answer
Danner said the data shows her that most issues, whether economic or social, must be balanced with each other.
For instance, one could argue that the energy industry needs to be expanded in Moffat County because it has the best-paying jobs. However, energy companies need dedicated land, and any large expansion could harm local agriculture.
In that way, a step forward for the local economy could be a step backward for the local culture.
"It's not all dollars and cents, although energy is a cornerstone of our economy," Danner said.
She added such a move may make sense in the short term but could be a blunder down the road.
"We may need that land when the natural resources are gone to develop other industries," Danner said, citing tourism and locally made goods as two examples. "Each of the three counties is so unique, and a lot of the issues are unique, but they're all interconnected."
Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org