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The Surprise Economic Diversity of Boulder County, Colorado

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Let’s play match the coffee shop with the town in which it is located. Both coffee shops are in Boulder County, Colorado, northwest of Denver.

One is the Bookends Cafe in city of Boulder. The other is Janie’s Cafe in the city of Longmont.

Hint: the average price of a home in Boulder is about $550,000. The average price of a home in Longmont is about half that.

Typically, folks look at the county’s extraordinarily high average household income (12th highest in the U.S.) and assume the area is wall-to-wall affluent people. Averages can be misleading, however.

An influential local charity, the Community Foundation of Boulder County, put together a statistical portrait of their county that shook up the stereotypes. These are called “Community Indicators.” It turns out there have been shifts in population in recent years. The county is much more racially diverse than it gets credit for. It is also economically more diverse.

Listen to David Brancaccio’s Marketplace story about alternative economic indicators.

Public schools are both wonderful and poor at the same time; the data show student performance depends in large part on how much money a family makes.

The county gets a lot of credit for its pro-environment profile. Some data show this is justified. For instance, Boulder city is famous for the way it preserves green space. Sixty-seven percent of the land in the county is preserved, a high figure.

Yet on transportation, locals say there is work to do. Because home prices are so high in the city of Boulder (in part due to all that green space) many folks who work in the town, cannot afford to live there.

This causes long lines of traffic during commute hours. A further surprise: Boulder County’s per capita carbon footprint is relatively high. Some of it is the coal that provides the power. Some of it are those affluent residents who tend to have more stuff that draws electricity.

As for which cafe is which? The answer is, the cafe with the leatherette is Janie’s in Longmont. Coffee in both places was great (and I am a snob on this subject). I will say the coffee at Janie’s could go head to head with an “Americano” in many more upscale establishments. The espresso at Bookends had a nice crema.

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