“Twenty-five percent of the jobs in Prowers County are government based,” said George Gotto, Interim Executive Director of Prowers County Development Incorporated. He was relating some financial and population statistics from a recent study which detailed the demographics of several southeast Colorado counties, made available during a recent economic development director meeting held in La Junta. “I was staggered by those percentages,” he told the PCDI board of directors at their monthly meeting. Gotto relayed some other statistics for the group showing the retail sector at 11% as the second highest level of employment in the county followed by agriculture at 10%. Gotto, and several other board members, were under the impression that agriculture employment would be the largest local source of employment. He told the board that not all of the information was available to the general public at this point, but would be in the future.
Statistics provided from a 2013 survey showed the county medium income at $34,391 compared to the state level of $58,433 per household. He added that our lower cost of living in Prowers County, at 83.89% of the state, is very low and helps to offset our low medium household income. Of the 12,236 residents in the county, 5,986 are currently employed. Gotto said in the study, the largest share of people earning less than $50,000 a year in the state are in Prowers County and the lower income reflects the large number of lower wages being paid in government, retail and agriculture jobs compared to a lower volume of high wage professional services that are found in metro areas.
The statistics showed Prowers County on the salary shortfall compared to the state. Gotto said the survey indicated that in 2014, the average weekly wages in the county were $610 which is 66% of the statewide average which was $1,014. He said there was some difference in the level of the cost of living here, compared to expenses in metro areas. The study was projected a county population of 14,020 in the year 2030, with a current estimate of 12,460.
In other areas, Gotto spoke about a meeting held in La Junta about future applications of a switchgrass crop as a source of biomass fuels. He said a group is proposing growing 62,000 acres in the first year and expanding that to 132,000 in the second and up to 164,000 in the third year. He added that it would be a potential new industry development for the region and hoped that local regulations for Prowers County could be set to allow the growth of hemp, as that is a developing industry in Otero County. Switchgrass can be used for a number of purposes, from soil conservation to forage production. It can be used as a biomass crop and processed for ethanol or butanol extracts. It’s estimated that expenses to grow it are half that of a corn crop. Gotto said he planned to attend the meeting and would have a report on his findings next month.
By Russ Baldwin
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