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By Jim Cherney

Demographic analysis can provide some interesting insights into the type of public policy questions we should be asking our public servants, as well as how we analyze such topics as commercial development, zoning, schools and a myriad of other subjects.

In this series of articles, we will set out some demographic data on Wheat Ridge and surrounding communities in Jefferson County. We will explore the significance of the information from a variety of viewpoints: What is the effect of demographic trends on the housing market? On schools and public facilities? On employment rates and job prospects? And on areas of job growth and demand? And, importantly, how are our elected and appointed government officials addressing these trends in terms of priorities for spending and budgeting?

Here are some of the findings so far:

Population and Age: Jefferson County, as a whole, has not been growing as fast as other areas in the state. It used to be the one of the top three counties as measured by population. In the next 20 years, the population of the counties of El Paso, Denver, Arapahoe and Adams are all expected to pass Jefferson County. Jefferson, Douglas, Broomfield and Boulder counties will all have slower growth.

Due to a lack of developable land and lack of housing stock, the Wheat Ridge and Edgewater areas may grow at a slower rate than other parts of Jefferson County. It is noteworthy that Wheat Ridge is only 9.09 square miles in size while Lakewood is 41.6 square miles and Arvada 32.7 square miles. Arvada and Lakewood have been able to expand their development areas, either to the north or to the south, while Wheat Ridge and Edgewater have become increasingly hemmed in by these communities. The City of Lakewood has almost 27 percent of the population in Jefferson County, followed by Arvada with 19 percent, Westminster with 8.5 percent and the City of Wheat Ridge with barely 6 percent. Edgewater and Wheat Ridge have been experiencing a negative change in population over the last six to eight years, although many feel that may be reversing. During that same period according to Jeffco data, the median age of Wheat Ridge residents has been increasing. However, at least some city officials feel that is reversing as well with an influx of new younger homeowners from Denver and elsewhere.

In future articles, we will examine the impact of these demographic trends on schools as well as how they impact services for a very present aging population in the community. By 2030, based upon trends from 2000 to 2010, it is estimated that our area may have more people that are 80+ years than those who are 0 to 5 years. At the same time, the number of persons-per-household has shrunk from 2.48 in 2000 to 2.35. (Colorado, as a whole, has gone from 2.53 to 2.49).

Home Values: The median home value in Wheat Ridge is $412,250, which is significantly higher than the Jeffco county-wide median of $350,900. By comparison, a Lakewood-area home has a median value of $363,500 and Arvada is somewhat higher at $393,329. The higher median in Wheat Ridge may be attributable to fewer overall homes and the smaller geographic footprint mentioned earlier. At the time of this writing, there were only 38 home listings in Wheat Ridge compared to 160 in Lakewood and 173 in Arvada.

Churches: It is interesting to note that the concentration of churches per capita in Wheat Ridge and Edgewater is significantly higher than neighboring communities. Wheat Ridge has approximately 17 churches with a population of 31,034. (Edgewater has four with a 5,400 population). In contrast, the population of Lakewood is 154,368 and it has 41 churches – five times the population and only 2.5 times the number of churches. Similarly, Arvada has only 19 churches with a population of 113,574. We intend to explore the significance of this data as well.

Employment Trends: Within our area, according to Jeffco data from 2010, 81 percent of the population older than 16 years were employed. This compares favorably to 71.2 percent for all of Jefferson County and 69.3 percent for Colorado as a whole. In 2010, the leading employment industries for Jefferson County were government, professional and technical services, health services, retail trade and construction. The top three employers in Jefferson County were federal government-funded: Denver Federal Center, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Occupations with the highest estimated annual job openings in our area, in order, include:

1. Retail salespersons

2. Food preparation and services

3. Registered nurses

4. Customer service representatives

5. Business operations specialists

6. Accountants and auditors

7. Elementary school teachers

8. Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants

9. Personal and home care aides

10. Home health aides

In future editions of the Neighborhood Gazette, we will continue to look at how demographics can impact us. We invite you to join us. If you want us to research some aspect of demographics for you, just let me know through, Attn: Jim Cherney.

Sally Griffin contributed to this story.