Greeley, Fort Collins experiencing explosion of growth; area expected to double in size in 30 years

Our Colorado: Population boom seen as good, bad

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GREELEY, Colo. — More people, more homes, more traffic.

Our Colorado is growing at what is sometimes an alarming rate.

Nowhere is that true than northern Colorado, where two large cities are predicted to double in size in the next few decades.

Both Greeley and Ft. Collins are experiencing an explosion of growth.

"And it's almost been as consistent as gravity," said Ft. Collins city planning director Cameron Gloss. “Traffic congestion is up near the top of the list in terms of community challenges.”

Ft. Collins now has 175,000 people.

Greeley surpassed the 100,000 mark for the first time ever about a year-and-a-half ago and now sits at a total population of 107,000.

And the Colorado State Demography is predicting both Ft. Collins and Greeley to double in size over the next 20-30 years.

"Up here in northern Colorado - there's a new growing metro area that we'll affectionately refer to as 'NoCo,'" said Greeley city manager Roy Otto. “I see NoCo as its own separate metro area.

"I moved to Greeley in 1971,” said Harold Evans, chairman of the water and sewer board for the City of Greeley. “We were 40,000 people. We're 107,000 today."

It's a hot spot in part because of metro Denver's affordability crisis.

"The alternative becomes northern Colorado - which is just 45 minutes away," said Richard Werner, president and CEO of Upstate Colorado Economic Development.

Werner says there's a common expression here - "Move until you can afford to stop.”

In Denver, people commonly move to the suburbs to find cheaper homes.

In northern Colorado, one starts at the foothills and moves east.

In Ft. Collins - the median home price is now $410,000.

As you get further east the values drop slightly. In Windsor, the median home price is $380,000.

And in Greeley, the median price is $271,000. Still expensive, but $140,000 cheaper than Ft. Collins.

The unemployment rate in ‘NoCo’ is lower than the state average, at just 2.6 percent. 

"And that's good, but while we have growth, we need to have jobs," said John Gates, mayor of Greeley.

The growth represents progress to some and a nightmare to others.

"Depends on who you ask," said SeonAh Kendall, economic health manager for the City of Ft. Collins. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that the jobs that are coming here are high-quality jobs.”

"The tensions associated with it are enormous," said Otto.

The growth is pushing water resources to the brink and gobbling up farmland used to grow food.

"Lettuce and peppers and onions and carrots," said Dale Trowbridge, general manager of the New Cache La Poudre Irrigating Company. “You’re seeing farms change; you’re seeing communities change; you’re seeing a culture shift.”

So, what's contributing to the growth?

It's everything you might expect. The mountains, the sunshine and a business environment in northern Colorado that is second to none.

"It's a beautiful place to live,” Trowbridge said. “I don't blame them for coming."

In Ft. Collins, once small businesses like New Belgium Brewery and Otterbox - have mushroomed into some of the most successful corporations in the world.

Ft. Collins doesn't even offer incentives packages to new businesses. It doesn’t have any reason to do so.

"Our priority is business retention, actually. And expansion of existing businesses within our community now. How do we support them as they grow,” said Kendall.

In Greeley and Weld County, businesses like a new Smucker's Uncrustables factory and Leprino Cheese are some of the driving forces.

"The world's largest mozzarella cheese company (is) on its third expansion," Werner said.

Small business is booming, too.

Alexia Peake-Inhulsen launched her chiropractic clinic called Peake Wellness Center in Greeley eight years ago. Since then, it's grown by 900 percent.

"It's the people here and the leadership that make it such an attractive place to live," Peake-Inhulsen said. "There's blue collar; there are professionals, there are families. And they're all open to what I have to offer."

Otto even suggests the projections from the state demographer might be a little low.

“We actually have land available that’s annexed to grow into [what] could go well-beyond even the projections that you’re here talking to us about,” Otto said. “We could grow up to 400,000.”

If and when that happens, Greeley would go from the 12th largest city in Colorado currently, to the 3rd largest.

“It’s great to be a part of,” Otto said. “I’m really, really excited about that.

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