A look into the future

What does the future hold for Mesa County? Will the population grow? What about the labor force? Which industries will provide jobs?

Local business owners and managers would love definitive answers to those questions, if only they could see a bit more clearly into their crystal balls.

As it turns out, there’s a state official whose job is to peer into a proverbial crystal ball of statistics to develop projections for population and labor as well as other trends in Colorado.

And she was recently in Grand Junction to talk specifically about her forecasts for this area.

Here are some of the highlights from a nearly two-hour presentation by Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer:

Even as Colorado ranked as the second-fastest growing state behind only North Dakota, there was a large disparity in growth rates between the Front Range and other areas. The population in Mesa County, for example, increased only 456 between 2014 and 2015.

The situation is similar for employment in that the labor force in some areas of Colorado now exceeds pre-recession levels, but not in other areas.
The labor force in Mesa County remains abut 8 percent below the pre-recession peak, although Garner questioned whether growth associated with what was at that time booming natural gas development was actually sustainable. Employment in some industry sectors in Mesa County exceeds per-recession peaks, but hasn’t yet rebounded in other sectors.

The population of Colorado is expected to continue to grow, from about 5.4 million now to 7 million in 2030, 7.9 million in 2040 and 8.6 million in 2050.

The population of Mesa County is expected to grow as well, from about 149,000 now to 162,000 in 2020, 189,000 in 2030 and $215,000 in 2040.

Mesa County payrolls are expected to grow along with the population, from about 77,000 now to nearly 86,000 in 2020, almost 94,000 in 2030 and more than 111,000 in 2040.

Mesa County has a higher proportion of jobs in the health care, retail trade and tourism sectors than the state averages. But the economic base overall is fairly well balanced, Garner said. Regional services, retirees and tourism constitute some of the biggest economic drivers.

Mesa County offers some attractive attributes, Garner said, that include outdoor recreation, good health care, an airport, a university and comparably lower housing and living costs. There’s also an advantage in being a metropolitan area, although not being a metro area close to Denver.

Mesa County also has demonstrated it can attract people of different ages, and that’s important as well, Garner said.

The Mesa County population is aging, though, and that will have implications not only for the labor and housing markets, but also the health care, transportation and other services offered as well as tax revenues for local government.