Climax’s Impact on Leadville’s Economy
It may seem like the world’s financial markets and Harrison Avenue rarely cross paths. However, in Lake County, the Climax Mine is a daily reminder of how significant the highs and lows of the New York Stock Exchange can be for Leadville’s main street. So as the calendar turns the page and year-end reviews and analysis make the news feed, so does Leadville’s neighbor at the top of Fremont Pass: Freeport-McMoran, Inc., also known on Wall Street: NYSE:FCX.
The FCX mining giant may never be the employment anchor in Leadville Today as it was in the 1970-80s when mining operations required 3,000 folks above and below ground to extract what many consider to be the purest molybdenum in the world. Today with an operational staff of about 300, many of those employees do not have the same “company-store” attachment to the publicly-traded company as the generations before had maintained with the revered Climax Mine. Today, there are simply more employment opportunities in the high country, and like every other business, even FCX is challenged to operate at full-staff.
Yet the economic tie to Lake County is still significant, both historically and for the future, especially when it comes to property taxes and the county’s assessed value. So it’s relevant to the local conversation what the market experts are saying about FCX, particularly the company’s ongoing expansion of its Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia.
Downshifting in America’s Highest City
Closer to home, the mining company has been messaging for years that they anticipate a complete shutdown of The Climax Mine operations by (initial reports) 2024, although its sister Henderson Mine was recently given extended-life through 2026, a market-driven decision. But the mining conglomeration is minding its Public Relations ps-and-qs when it comes to future promises to Lake County. The local labor market may be able to absorb any lost jobs, however, there’s another significant revenue stream that the company’s operations contribute to the Lake County coffers, particularly when the mines are operational!
The Climax Mine’s tax base is significant to the Lake County coffers, particularly when the mine is running, but even when it’s not. In fact, that tax base alone is often credited to bouying this community, allowing it to continue to operate during the leaner years as property and sales streams were drying up. In fact, when Climax began producing molybdenum again in May 2012 after a 17-year closure, the county’s value and incoming tax payment from the mine jumped up significantly to more than $90 million, pushing the mine’s tax payment in excess of $6m.
Unfortunately, today’s county records indicate that FCX’s assessed value along with its tax payment have decreased every year for the past four. It’s part of an interesting relationship, one that at a critical point in 20th-century history, which could have changed the course forever. It’s a cautionary tale told by Leadville historian Howard Tritz.
History Of The Climax Mine
Lake County Employment Numbers
The Colorado Workforce Center recently released its findings for Lake County concerning the 2019 job market. Readers may find the FULL REPORT HERE, the following are some interesting highlights from their year-end report.
- Jobs: Jobs saw a slight decline from the prior quarter. This is often due to seasonal fluctuations and the lag in data reporting. Employment levels are stronger year over year and have shown an increase in 39 positions from the same quarter 2018. The Lake County labor market has remained relatively stable over the past 4 years.
- Current Number of Jobs in Lake County (Q2 2019) – 1,843.
- Previous Number of Jobs in Lake County (Q1 2019) – 1,977.
- Labor Force: Lake County’s labor market remained tight throughout most of 2018. Low unemployment created challenges for employers trying to attract employees while facing competition from businesses in Eagle and Summit county which draw large numbers of commuting workers.
- The number of workers Unemployed (November 2019) – 104.
- The number of Job Postings (November 2019) – 75.
- Businesses: According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, year over year, there has been a loss of 7 business establishments in Lake County and a loss of one business from the first quarter. the Trades/Transportation/Utility sector and Leisure and Hospitality sector each lost while Professional and Business Services did experience growth year over year and from last quarter.
- The number of businesses changed: -1 (one closed in Q1 2019).
- The number of businesses currently in Lake County: 233 (Q2 2019).