Regional Economist Provides Check-Up on Growing Health Care Sector in Larimer County

The robust health care and social assistance industry in Larimer County will expand 3.6 percent in the next four years, creating 2,000 new jobs, according to a report released today by Martin Shields, regional economist based at Colorado State University.

Colorado State’s Shields, associate professor of economics, and David Keyser, research economist, co-authored the report on behalf of the university’s Office of Economic Development and the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp.

"Health care has a very important role in the region’s economy as the fourth largest employment sector, and by providing workers with wages above the county average," Shields said. "Stable population growth, low poverty rates and relatively high percentages of insured individuals in Larimer County contribute to continued, steady growth of the health care industry, which is expected to grow faster than the overall Larimer County economy."

Shields warns in the report that a tight labor market and rising health care costs are potential obstacles to further growth, but expects the sector to continue to be a driving force in the near future.

The entire sector has exploded countywide in the past four years: Health care and social assistance firms and organizations added 2,900 jobs in Larimer County between 2001 and 2005 – a 24.6 percent growth rate – despite major losses in manufacturing jobs. Overall county net private sector employment growth totaled 5,996 jobs in that time period, meaning nearly one in two net private sector jobs were in health care.

The health care and social assistance category includes all employment associated with physical and mental health and care facilities for children, elderly or disabled. It also includes some vocational and rehabilitation services.

"This report is a strong indication that our existing businesses are confident in the regional economy and finding enough quality workers, which is critical since they are our best hope for new job creation," said Maury Dobbie, president and chief executive officer of the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. In 2006, the organization announced a partnership with Colorado State to hire a regional economist and collaborate on economic development goals.

Highlights of the report:

-The health care and social assistance category has grown to be more dominant in the economy as a whole. The sector accounted for 8.3 percent of jobs in the economy in 2001; by 2005, that had increased to 10.1 percent.

-Using a multiplier effect, the health sector directly provides 13,303 jobs. Indirectly, that increases to 22,469 jobs directly representing about 10 percent of total employment and supporting 17 percent of total employment in the county.

-Health care wages are the second highest out of the top five sectors at $37,098 – just above the county average. Manufacturing has the highest wages, followed by health care, educational services, retail and accommodation and food services.

-Larimer County experienced greater growth rates in the health sector than Colorado or the United States in all years except 2005.

-Ambulatory health care is the largest and fastest expanding sector, growing 28.2 percent from 2001 to 2005. Hospitals and nursing care facilities grew 24.4 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively.

-From 2001 to 2005, all major subcomponents of Larimer County’s health care industry added jobs. In fact, nearly all of the sectors outpaced the overall county growth rate of 4.9 percent.

-Hospitals and physicians’ offices account for the largest share of total health employment (32 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively). During the past five years, both of these sectors have experienced steady growth, although physicians’ offices slowed somewhat from 2003-2004. The fastest growth has been in some of the smaller sectors such as medical and diagnostic laboratories (127 jobs/78.4 percent growth), home health care services (330 jobs/91.6 percent growth), and community care facilities for the elderly (683 jobs/45.3 percent growth).