MONTROSE — As the largest Gig City on the Western Slope, it’s no secret the internet in Montrose is really, really fast and reliable. Combine that with continued job growth in manufacturing and the area’s endless outdoor amenities and you have the recipe for being named one of the top "micropolitans" in the United States, according to a recent nationwide study.
The study ranked over 500 communities from across the United States that found prosperity during the COVID-19 pandemic by mixing outdoor recreation with manufacturing. Nationwide, small to medium cities, dubbed "micropolitans", that have worked to diversify their economies by leveraging high-speed broadband internet paired with outdoor amenities have become popular destinations for manufacturing companies.
“Areas offering a mix of broadband connectivity and access to the outdoors became a respite from the difficulties of pandemic-era city life,” the report said, adding that areas like Montrose are likely to grow in entrepreneurship and manufacturing in the years to come.
The study conducted by the Heartland Forward, an economic renewal institute based in Bentonville, Arkansas, ranked four Colorado cities among the top 25 micropolitan areas in the United States.
Montrose was ranked number 25 out of 536 United States cities studied with populations between 10,000 to 50,0000 residents.
Other Colorado communities included in the list were Edwards, number 10, Breckenridge, 15, and Steamboat Springs, 16.
Researchers used economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2015 through 2021.
From these metrics, the researchers compared growth in average annual pay, employment numbers, and gross domestic product (GDP); level of per capita personal income; share of total employment at firms aged five years or fewer (young-firm employment share); and the share of employment at those young firms with a bachelor’s degree or higher (young-firm knowledge intensity).
Specifically from 2015 through 2022, employment in Montrose grew at a rate of 6.4% with annual average wage growth rising by 25.8% during the same time period. During the COVID-19 pandemic, from September 2020 to September 2021, job growth in Montrose occurred at a rate of 6.3% as remote workers left large urban centers for small rural cities.
"In reading the parameters for the report, two things rose to the top: job growth and economic development,” Montrose Mayor Dave Frank said. “The fact that our outdoor manufacturing industries, as well as our stable economic status, are being recognized, is one reason that Montrose was among the top 25 micropolises in the United States.”
The report summarized its findings that “when COVID-19 shuttered the urban amenities that draw many residents to large metropolitans for forced desk-based employees to work from home, the intrigue of an outdoor-centric small town with sufficient internet quality only increased.”
In the area of outdoor recreation, the report found that the Mountain West region of the American West “dominates the upper echelon of the Most Dynamic Micropolitans.”
“Sometimes we can get locked into looking only at the negatives in our communities, Frank said. Sometimes it takes an outside voice to remind us about what a wonderful, progressive city we live in. Once again, I am proud to call Montrose home!"
Twelve of the top 25 micropolitans noted in the report are in the West, including Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
Colorado's ten micropolitans are mostly in the western part of the state, including Glenwood Springs, 40, Durango, 112, and Craig, coming in at 270. Two other Colorado towns, Sterling, 172, and Fort Morgan, 113, also landed on the list.
More information about Heartland Forward can be found at www.heartlandforward.org.