Boulder County’s high intellectual capital means good pay for many, but not all

City planners try to lure companies that complement their community’s strengths. They hope these companies work together to create jobs that pay well, while providing intellectual capital that brings in similar companies.

From this perspective, Boulder County’s cities are thriving. Strong private-public partnerships drive a great deal of the county’s economic activity and continue to make it attractive to firms that might be interested in moving here.

The flip side to our strong economy, however, is that rising housing costs leave some families struggling to fulfill basic needs.

“Typically higher paid jobs create lower paying jobs,” said State Demographer Elizabeth Garner. “You have lots of jobs at higher incomes. What do they want to do? Buy coffee. Go out drinking. Go out eating. Use dry cleaners rather than doing their own laundry. As they create $100,000 jobs, they’re creating $25,000 jobs.”

Those on the bottom end of the income ladder struggle. More families are applying for food stamps (SNAP) now than they were during the Great Recession.

The need for food assistance is partly driven by the recent spike in home prices and rents. The latter has amped up pressure on lower income families. It has also made it virtually impossible for even middle income families to buy a home. Adding to these problems, a disparity in median household income between Latinos and Anglos is worse here than in the country as a whole.

Julie Van Domelen, Executive Director of Emergency Family Assistance Association said housing costs are considered sustainable when they are 30 to 50 percent of income. She adds that EFAA is seeing clients with situations that are much less viable.

“If you’re renting in the market and don’t have a (housing) voucher, the average (EFAA client) is spending 72 percent of income on housing costs,” she said. “That means there’s nothing left for anything. There’s very little cushion if you have an extra health bill or get your hours cut.”

Yet, because poverty is not concentrated here as it would be in urban areas, it remains largely hidden. The stories in this chapter shed light on this quiet but persistent struggle. All this is not to underestimate the very great value of Boulder County’s highly educated and entrepreneurial workforce. It’s what makes Boulder County’s economy hum. And it’s easier to ameliorate social problems with a growing, rather than a shrinking, tax base.

The top job sector in Boulder County is professional, scienti‹c and technical services, with government jobs, including federal, state and local occupying the second rung. Both have continued to grow over the past 10 years.

These sectors primed Boulder County to emerge from the 2008-2009 recession more quickly than some other cities did, said Brian Lewandowski, associate director of the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado.

“It was partially a matter of luck that the industries that were hot nationally post-recession are also what Boulder County has particular strength in,” he said.

“A lot of that strength comes from having a trifecta of private industries working in space, as well as CU, as well as the federal labs in Boulder and around the county. Together, they create an R and D (research and development) foundation in the area that brings together some of the brightest minds in the world.”


by Cindy Sutter