Weld County GDP declines 6.7% in 2021

Weld County’s real gross domestic product dropped 6.7% in 2021, the largest percentage decline of any medium-sized county in the country.

That’s according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Real GDP is an inflation-adjusted measure of the total value of goods and services produced in a region. Data at the county level is released annually each December.

Weld County was one of only 15 medium-sized counties to show a decline in real GDP, with 456 counties with populations between 100,000 and 500,000 showing increases.

Weld County’s real GDP fell to almost $21.2 billion in 2021, compared with $22.7 billion in 2020

But the data was not all bad for Weld County. Nominal GDP — not inflation-adjusted — increased by 23.4%, to $22 billion from $17.89 billion in 2020, driven in part by higher prices for oil and gas.

“We’re selling less of it, but we’re selling it for a lot higher price,” said Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Business Research Division at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, noting that nominal GDP for mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction increased 95% from 2020 to 2021.

And, although the BEA initially estimated an 11% decline in real GDP from 2019 to 2020, that number has been revised to show a decline of 6.6%.

But the 2021 real GDP data demonstrate Weld County’s dependence on two critical industries: agriculture and energy. Those sectors — agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction — showed the biggest percentage declines in real GDP, at 38% and 23.57%, respectively. Utilities declined by 20%.

“That’s not a shocker,” Lewandowski said, given Weld’s reliance on the ag and mining sectors and volatility of commodity prices.

Construction and management of companies and enterprises each declined slightly in percentage terms in Weld County.

Rich Werner, president and CEO of Upstate Colorado, a regional economic-development agency, said the decline in GDP is understandable, given the volatility of commodity prices.

“When you have your main economic drivers in agriculture and oil and gas, which are commodity-based businesses, you tend to see those fluctuations,” he said. “We are certainly aware of it, and I don’t want to say ‘used to it,’ but we’re cognizant that you’re going to have the up-and-down nature of those industries.”

But over the past two years, Werner added, the Weld County economy has continued to diversify.

“When we’re looking at our activity, particularly at Upstate, the past two years, we have seen, actually, a record number of inquiries into Weld County,” he said. “While our commodity-based industries are seeing reductions, we’re seeing a lot of inquiries and growth in other areas.”

Some Weld County industries did record solid growth in 2021, with manufacturing up 4.5%; wholesale trade up 4.8%; arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services up 19.8%; transportation and warehousing up 6.9%; and professional and business services up 6.5%.

Even as Weld County continued to struggle in 2021, other area counties showed healthy growth:

  • Boulder County’s GDP jumped to $29.15 billion, compared with $27 billion in 2020, an increase of 7.9%.
  • Broomfield County’s real GDP increased to $7.5 billion from $7.27 billion in 2020, up 3.5%.
  • Larimer County’s real GDP increased to $20.3 billion from $19 billion in 2020, an increase of almost 7%.

“7.9% in real growth is a pretty phenomenal number,” Lewandowski said of Boulder County’s growth, “and when I see what was growing the fastest, it’s really a reflection of what we describe as the Boulder economy.”

Professional and business services, which includes sectors such as engineering, research and development, software, legal and accounting, increased by double digits.

“When we think about an innovation and entrepreneurship hub, a lot of that falls within that sector,” Lewandowski said.

Nationally, real GDP increased in 2,404 counties, decreased in 691 counties and remained unchanged in 17 counties, according to the BEA. Percentage changes in real GDP ranged from 81.8% in Coke County, Texas, to a decline of 34.8% in Chouteau County, Montana.