Assembling the pieces of the economic puzzle: Certainty still missing

Several times a year, the indicators tracking various components of the Mesa County economy all seem to come out at once. When that confluence occurs, it only makes sense to take a more thorough look at what the assembled pieces of the puzzle portray and to try to answer the question that invariably arises: What’s next?

That’s what happened over the course of the production cycle for this issue of the Business Times. Consequently, stories detail the most recent available numbers for everything from apartment vacancies, labor conditions and property foreclosures to the real estate market, sales tax collections and tourism.

Most of those numbers offer encouragement. Here, at a glance, is the rundown: Apartment vacancies are down. While still a full point higher than the state and national rates, the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has edged down as payrolls and labor demand increases. Real estate transactions and the dollar volume of those sales are up. The pace of sales tax collections have slowed and even dropped slightly for Mesa County for the July report. But collections so far this year remain ahead of last year. Lodging tax collections are up. Now for a bit of bad news: Despite a decline in foreclosure filings in July, Mesa County continues to experience the highest foreclosure rate among 12 metropolitan counties in Colorado.

Even if Mesa County has yet to fully recover from the effects of the Great Recession, the latest indicators appear to at least point in that direction.

So what’s preventing a more robust recovery from gaining real traction?

To a large degree, uncertainty.

Just ask Diane Schwenke. As president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Schwenke talks with local business owners and managers nearly every day. What she often hears from those owners and managers is that they’re not yet convinced real growth is here to stay. What’s more, they’re reluctant to increase staff or expand operations because of the uncertainty associated with the upcoming elections, the pending effects of health care legislation and the threat of additional federal regulations.

Consumers can react with the same sort of uncertainty, putting off such large purchases as homes, automobiles and appliances until they can feel more confident their jobs remain secure. Given the fact consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States, business confidence has everything to do with consumer confidence.

One of the first priorities for whoever gets elected in November, from the Statehouse to the White House, will be to implement policies that promote more regulatory certainty. The certainty that fewer regulations will impose less costs on businesses would be most welcome. But business owners and managers are an enterprising lot who can deal with just about anything, so long as they know for sure what’s coming.

Clearly, the assembled pieces of the economic puzzle portray an increasingly encouraging picture in Mesa County. But an even more robust recovery still depends on a missing piece, and that’s more certainty.