With a mean elevation of 6,800 feet, Colorado is the nation's highest state. It boasts 54 peaks over 14,000 feet (known colloquially as "fourteeners"), including Pikes Peak, one of the state's leading tourist attractions. Colorado's largest city and capital, Denver, is known as the Mile High City - its elevation is exactly 5,280 feet.
Things are changing swiftly in the Centennial State. Colorado is the third fastest growing state in the U.S. with a five-year growth rate of 6.5% between 2010 and 2014. Once a primarily rural state known for its frontier character, it is now rapidly urbanizing. Over 2.7 million people – more than half of the state’s total population – live in the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield metro area, which is among the 10 fastest growing metropolises in the nation. Along with this growth comes increased diversity, with 20% of residents identifying as Hispanic. Among leading ethnicities found in the state, Germans come in first with 14% of the population.
Dominated by the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is bisected by the Continental Divide running north to south, along which sit several of the state's largest cities. The Eastern third of Colorado is a plateau, and the economy in this area relies heavily on agriculture, especially livestock, dairy products and a few major crops, including sugar beets, wheat, beans, corn, potatoes, apples and carnations. Historically a mining state, Colorado still produces significant amounts of coal, oil, natural gas, molybdenum, sand, gravel and gold. One of the world's largest gold producers, Newmont Mining Corp., is based in Denver, and the state ranks third in the U.S. in gold production.
After the Great Depression, which severely impacted Colorado's mining and agricultural economy, the state began to shift towards tourism and government employment. The establishment of the U.S. Air Force Academy and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in the Colorado Springs area during the 1950s created thousands of military and civilian jobs; currently there are six military bases and installations (two Army, four Air Force) in Colorado with over 50,000 personnel. But today, like most of the U.S., service industries – anything from financial services to software development - make up the largest portion of Colorado’s gross domestic product.
With a booming population and strong services-based economy, Colorado was ranked in the top 10 states for job growth in 2015. One important factor is the well-educated workforce, as the state is #2 in the nation when it comes to residents with undergraduate degrees (35.9%). Not surprisingly, the influx of these skilled workers is driving the real estate market upwards, with 26% appreciation statewide between 2011 and 2015. As of the latter, the median home value in Colorado was $295,460, and the median rental price was $1,228.
Colorado is associated with skiing for good reason: the state is the top ski destination in the U.S., capturing 21% of all overnight ski visits. Thanks to its sunny, dry climate and famously powdery snow, Colorado's 25 ski resorts accounted for nearly a quarter of the $18.6 billion in tourism revenue in 2014. Despite perennial concerns over water shortages in the West, and reports that the ski industry may be adversely impacted by climate change, the real estate market for second homes in upscale ski areas such as Aspen, Vail and Telluride remains strong. In 2015, the median home values for these areas were $506,808, $651,761 and $703,247, respectively.