Connecting the dots results in mixed outlook

It’s risky business attempting to connect the myriad dots to catch a glimpse of what the economy looks like. It can be more risky still to predict with any certainty how actions today will affect the economy tomorrow. It’s worth the trouble, though, on the off chance a bigger picture just might emerge: By golly, that’s not just a bunch of trees, but a whole forest out there.

So here are some dots to consider in attempting to make the connections:

Sales tax collections, a key indicator of retail activity, continue to trend downward in Grand Junction and Mesa County. According to March reports, sales and use tax collections in the city dropped 6.8 percent compared to the same month last year. The county reported a 6.5 percent decline. Here’s the most disturbing news of all, though: City sales and use tax collections have declined on a year-over-year basis in seven out of the last eight months. County sales tax collections have dropped in eight out of the last nine months.

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County continues to retreat. According to the latest estimates, the jobless rate dropped three-tenths of a point to 8.8 percent in March. Taking in a longer-term perspective, the unemployment rate for March has dropped considerably over the last three years. That’s the good news. The bad news is the latest rate isn’t so much a reflection of more people going to work, but fewer people counted among the unemployed and, worse still, a shrinking labor force.

Colorado moved up two spots to eighth to continue to rank among the top 10 business-friendly states in an annual assessment of the cost of tax systems on starting and growing small businesses. The 2013 Business Tax Index calculated by the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council takes into account 21 tax measures. Colorado consistently fares well in the analysis because of its comparatively low unemployment and corporate income and capital gains taxes.

A group of measures aimed at increasing regulations in a state that already imposes some of the strictest rules on energy development continues to make its way through the Colorado Legislature.

Triple Play Records in Grand Junction will soon celebrate 25 years in business, defying predictions vinyl records would go away and surviving a series of dramatic changes in the music industry.

While they very well could be wrong, here are some possible conclusions to ponder:

Such key economic indicators as sales tax collections and unemployment rates reflect an economy that still could be moving toward recovery, but only grindingly slowly. And while other areas of Colorado show more marked improvement, the Grand Valley continues to lag behind.

Colorado fosters a nurturing business environment overall with its comparatively low employment and corporate taxes, but runs the risk of becoming far less welcoming to an energy industry that could operate under less onerous regulations elsewhere. And make no mistake: Energy exploration and production constitutes an important component the economy.

And finally …. the effects of taxes, regulations and even a bad economy can be surmounted to a large degree by good management that adapts to and even takes advantages of changes while focusing on customer service.