Clouds and silver linings

As is usually the case, economic indicators for Mesa County for the first half of the year constitute something of a mixed bag. And a midyear update prepared at the University of Colorado confirms Mesa County continues to lag behind other metropolitan areas of the state in key measures of economic performance.

The news isn’t all bad, though, especially given some other developments, among them the continued expansion of health care facilities and educational opportunities in the Grand Valley as well as a tax incentive program that’s attracted a lengthening list of businesses to the area.

The latest indicators reflect the ups and downs of the Mesa County economy as well as differences in the performance of various sectors.

Real estate activity continued to increase in Mesa County during the first half of the year with gains in the number and dollar volume of transactions as well as the median sales price. There’s been an uptick in property foreclosures — perhaps as a result of people who’ve lost jobs in the energy sector — but not yet to a point of substantial concern.

What has been more disconcerting is the downward trend in sales and use tax collections. The City of Grand Junction reported that sales tax collections edged up two-tenths of a percent for the first half of 2016 compared to the first half of 2015. But use tax collections dropped nearly 42 percent. Mesa County reported a
7.8 percent decline in sales tax collections and 11.3 percent decrease in use tax collections for the first half on a year-over-year basis.

Measures of hospitality and travel performed better. Lodging tax collections for the first half were up 4.8 percent. Enplanements — the number of people boarding commercial flights — climbed to a record 22,561in June at the Grand Junction Regional Airport. For the first half, enplanements increased 5.6 percent.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped nearly a point in June to 6.6 percent, a seasonal spike attributed in part to high school and college graduates entering the work force. The jobless rate is expected to retreat for the remainder of the year. But it’s worth noting the jobless rate was lower at 6.1 percent at this time last year.

Meanwhile, a midyear update to an annual economic forecast prepared at the Leeds School of Business at CU confirms Mesa County continues to lag behind other metro areas in terms of employment growth, per capital personal income and home price appreciation.

Even as economic indicators create a troubling short-term statistical snapshot, the long-term outlook for Mesa County remains more encouraging.

Health care, a key economic driver, continues to expand in Mesa County with the completion of the 12-story patient tower at St. Mary’s Medical Center and $339 million Century Project. Now that’s a capital investment.

Colorado Mesa University announced it’s expanding a partnership with CU in enabling students to earn a civil engineering degree from CU while attending classes at CMU.

Meanwhile, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership reported that two more companies have been approved to take advantage of tax incentives offered under the Rural Jump-Start Program in Mesa County. That brings to seven the number of firms that have been approved so far to participate in the program in its inaugural year. By the way, those firms are expected to bring a total of more than 550 jobs to Mesa County by 2020.

As is usually the case, clouds come with silver linings. It’s important not to dwell too much on either.