When Keith Moffett was growing up, just about every dad he knew, including his own, worked at the Climax mine. It so dominated Lake County’s economy up until its closure in the mid-1980s that losing the jobs there “devastated” the community, Moffett says.
Thousands of out-of-work people left with their families. Unemployment soared and the county’s tax base sank, leaving little money for education, safe roads and sidewalks, and recreation facilities.
Decades later, Lake County hasn’t forgotten the pain of that loss. It has committed itself to the challenging work of building an economy that provides stability and a chance for all residents to thrive and be healthy.
“A huge part of building a culture of health for us has been economic diversification,” says Katie Baldassar, executive director of Lake County Build a Generation, which promotes health efforts across the county.
No longer dependent on mining for its prosperity, Lake County has transformed into a bedroom community known for its relatively low cost of living. Nearly 75 percent of workers who live here commute across mountain passes to neighboring counties, where bustling ski resorts offer higher-paying jobs. Tourism in Lake County also has become an important, though not dominant, source of revenue. The Leadville Race Series, a summer-long series of extreme biking and running events, attracts thousands of adventure-seeking athletes, crewmembers, and onlookers each year.
After a decade-plus absence, the Climax mine reopened in 2012 under new management, employing 450 people. Residents welcomed them back, but with a caveat: They insisted that Climax’s new owner, Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan, help establish the Leadville Lake County Economic Development Corporation to nurture other businesses.