La Plata County serves as a business hub in Southern Colorado
Writer’s note: For the next several weeks we will be focusing on Southern Colorado counties where they came from, what they have to offer and why more Coloradoans should pay them a visit. In this seventh edition we explore one of Southern Colorado’s business hubs: the aptly named La Plata County.
When it comes to business development in Southern Colorado a lot can be learned from La Plata County. The proud home of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, La Plata County also serves as the hub for several innovative enterprises such as Crossfire LLC, Fort Lewis College, The Southern Ute Growth Fund and Mercury Payment Systems, among many others.
SoCo’s business hub
According to the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, one of the key draws of the county and its primary city, Durango, is due not only to its locale “where arid desert meets snowcapped peaks, but also for its top employers and professional development opportunities.”
Due to La Plata County’s geography, the southeastern county – which approaches Colorado’s gateway to the Four Corners region of the west – has allowed companies from across a large gamut of industries to flourish in the 1,690 square mile county.
“The area’s growth companies span many industries from high-pressure water blasting tools that seek skilled engineers and sales managers, to point-of-sale processing corporations searching for software developers and back office administrators, to food beverage companies,” according to La Plata County Economic Development Alliance. “Other key employers include two award-winning hospitals and oil and gas corporations that employ engineers, business managers and analysts, and numerous skilled trade professionals.”
Population and demographics
Over 6,000 businesses call La Plata County home, which is why the county’s continued population growth in an area that is characterized more by population loss, is not surprising.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, La Plata County has enjoyed consistent population growth since the 1960s when the county’s population numbered 19,225 to its current estimated total of 55,623. Demographically the county is majority Caucasian with that demographic taking up 79 percent of the population. Hispanics are the largest minority population at 12.7 percent, which American Indians and Alaskan Natives are the next largest at 6.9 percent – much of that due to the presence of The Southern Ute Growth Fund in Durango. African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders all make up less than 1 percent of the population, respectively.
La Plata County also boasts a significant age difference from its neighboring counties due in large part to the presence of Fort Lewis College and several corporate headquarters. The majority of the population (66 percent) in La Plata County falls between the ages of 18 and 65.
Recreation and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
“La Plata is a vibrant and divers locale situated among the San Juan Mountains in the high desert of Southwest Colorado,” the county’s website states. “Across 1,690 square miles, La Plata County provides a beautiful locale … and draws visitors from around the world to experience second-to-none recreational opportunities in a setting rich in history, archaeology, culture and natural features.”
Among those recreation features are the San Juan National Forest, which careens through La Plata County; Weminuche Wilderness; the Colorado Trail – one of the Centennial State’s most popular trails for running, hiking and biking; the Old Spanish National Historic Trail; the Great Parks Bicycle Route; the Durango-Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad National Historic District; and the San Juan Skyway National Scenic Byway.
Between Durango and Silverton is a 3-foot narrow gauge heritage railroad that cover the 45.2-mile trek between the two cities. The history surrounding the railroad and its route has allowed it to become a federally designated National Historic Landmark. That history includes the transportation of silver and gold ore mined from the San Juan Mountains. The line from Durango to Silverton has run continuously since 1881, making it one of the nation’s oldest operational lines. It is also one of the few railroads to continue its use of steam locomotives.