Mesa County outlook continues to “trend positive” for 2017

Richard Wobbekind

Richard Wobbekind

The business and economic outlook for Mesa County will continue to “trend positive” for 2017, according to the latest results of an annual forecast for Colorado.

The assessment is based in part on the prospect of further diversification of the local economy, programs offering tax incentives for new businesses and jobs and the quality of life offered in the area.

Statewide, job growth is expected in almost every industry sector in 2017.

“Colorado will continue to rank among the top 10 states nationally for employment growth  in 2017, a six-year standing,” said Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the business research division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “And it is poised for long-term growth, boasting a skilled work force and high-tech, diversified economy; relatively low cost of doing business; global economic access; and exceptional quality of life.”

The division compiles an annual business and economic outlook for Colorado with forecasts for 13 industry sectors. A total of more than 100 business, government and industry professionls conributed to the outlook. That includes Kristi Pollard and Steve Jozefczyk, executive director and business development manager, respectively, of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

A section of the outlook offers details of specific areas around the state, including Mesa County. Pollard and Jozefczyk reviewed several economic trends as well as a number of industry sectors.

As of October, the latest month for which estimates are available,  the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County stood at 4.5 percent, down a tenth of a point from the same month last year. Over the past year, nonfarm employment has increased eight-tenths of a percent.

As of November, 4,234 real estate sales worth a combined $993 million were reported in Mesa County for 2016. Compared to the same span in 2015, transactions rose 13.8 percent and dollar volume increased 10.5 percent. Year-to-date numbers for 2016 already top year-end totals for 2015 and have climbed to their highest level since 2008.

Meanwhile, sales and use tax collections for the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County for 2016, a measure of retail activity, continue to lag behind 2015.

Through October, the city collected a total of about $4.5 million in sales and use taxes, during 2016. That’s about $1 million less than the same span in 2015. The county reported collecting a total of more than $25.7 million in sales and use taxes. That’s about $1.3 million less than the same span in 2015.

Mesa County remains a regional hub for health care, education and tourism, Pollard and Jozefcyzk wrote.

Community Hospital opened a new four-story, 140,000 square-foot facility in 2016 even as St. Mary’s Medical Center completed the buildout of its patient tower.

Colorado Mesa University ranks among the largest employers in the region with a total staff of about 2,000 full- and part-time employees and a payroll of more than $25 million. For the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, CMU contributed an estimated $417.5 million to the regional economy.

As for tourism, 1 million people visited lodging properties in Mesa County during 2015, generating $269 million in direct travel spending and $8 million in local taxes.

The Colorado National Monument attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually, while the wineries and mountain bike trails in the Grand Valley remain popular destinations. The installation last year of a new high-speed chairlift at Powderhorn Mountain Resort east of Grand Junction bolstered business not only for the ski season, but also mountain biking during the summer.

Meanwhile, the Rural Jump-Start Program has played a role in establishing seven new companies in Mesa County, Pollard and Jozefcyzk wrote. The program creates zones in which approved businesses are exempted from paying state and local taxes. To participate, the core functions of businesses may not compete with existing operations. Businesses also must create a minimum of five net new jobs in the county in which they’re located.

In Mesa County, participating companies are expected to create a total of 543 net new jobs by 2020, contributing a total of $22.3 million to the local economy, Pollard and Jozefcyzk wrote.

Statewide, population growth contributes to economic growth, Wobbekind said. By percentage, Colorado has the second-fastest growing population with a projected total of 5.5 million in 2016.

Nonfarm payrolls in Colorado are expected to increase 2.4 percent in 2017 with a gain of 63,400 jobs. That compares to job growth in excess of 3 percent over the past three years, Wobbekind said.

The leisure and hospitality sector is expected to add 12,100 jobs in 2017 even as ski resort and park visits increase.

The education and health services sector is forecast to add 10,600 jobs with the continued expansion of health care facilities and services.

Professional and business services are forecast to add 9,200 jobs as the sector takes advantage of what ranks in Colorado as the second most highly educated population of workers.

The construction sector is expected to add 9,000 jobs as gains in single-family home building offset a decline in new multi-family housing.

It’s anticipated the trade, transportation and utilities sector will add 7,100 jobs with retail trades accounting for most of the growth.

The financial activities sector is expected to add 5,300 jobs with hiring in banking, insurance and real estate.

Factory payrolls are projected to increase 2,300 with gains about evenly split between durable and nondurable goods manufacturers.

Employment in natural resources and mining, which includes oil and natural gas development, is expected to decline slightly.

Low cattle and grain prices are expected to reduce ranch and farm income in Colorado for a second straight year. The agricultural industry is expected to bring in a net income of $392 million in 2017.

The Business Times has served as the definitive source for Grand Junction business news since 1994. The journal offers news, views and advice you can use twice each month in print with daily updates online at www.TheBusinessTimes.com
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