Economic recovery will continue in Mesa County in 2013 with growth in industries, wages and population, according to an annual forecast prepared at the University of Colorado.
The statewide outlook is much the same, said Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Business Research Division at the CU Leeds School of Business.
“For the state, we see a very positive environment for 2013,” Wobbekind said. “We’re seeing a wide array of jobs being added and they’re diversifying our state economy.”
With a projected addition of another 42,100 jobs, the Colorado unemployment rate is expected to drop to 7.4 percent next year, Wobbekind said. All sectors of the economy are predicted to grow with the exception of the information sector, which includes telecommunications and publishing.
Resolution of a so-called “fiscal cliff” of federal tax increases and spending cuts as well as the European debt crisis could have national effects that filter down to Colorado, Wobbekind said. “Once that uncertainty gets resolved, we then expect business investments to start flowing again and consumers to start making decisions based on a known environment,” he added. “We think the recovery will be quite a bit smoother after that.”
In Mesa County, several trends point to improving conditions, according to the 2013 Colorado Business Economic Outlook. “Signs of economic recovery have been slow, but 2012 has seen some positive increases, specifically in home prices, home sales and the increase in employment.
The labor force and number of jobs have gradually been building back up to levels that were seen in 2008 and 2009.”
After dropping in February to $152,000, the average home sales price in Mesa County has rebounded to $180,000. With a month left to go in 2012, real estate transactions already exceed year-end totals for the past three years.
The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County rose two-tenths of a point to 8.3 percent in October, the latest month for which estimates are available. Still, nonfarm payrolls in the county have grown 1,952 over the past year, a gain of almost 2.7 percent.
Mesa County payrolls are expected to grow to 65,115 in 2013, a slight gain over 2012. The health care sector is expected to hire more doctors, nurses and support staff next year even as the aging baby boom generation requires more services. Staff increases also are anticipated at medical device companies.
While the retail sector is projected to continue to expand along with the population in Mesa County, additional hiring isn’t expected in 2013.
Average annual wages in Mesa County have increased on a year-over-year basis for four consecutive quarters. Wages are projected to continue to increase as businesses compete for the growing number of students graduating from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction.
Five business sectors have been targeted for their potential for economic development and job growth in Mesa County: health care and medical device manufacturing, aviation and aerospace, energy and energy services, outdoor recreation and information technology and professional services.
National and global factors, including economic conditions and foreign competition, are likely to affect medical device and aerospace manufacturing.
Even as energy exploration and development has slowed in Western Colorado, energy service companies in Mesa County have expanded to support regional and national operations. The increased use of compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel could bolster the local energy sector.
Tourism is expected to continue to play a big role in the Mesa County economy because of the variety of outdoor activities and wineries that bring visitors to the area. Increasing lodging tax revenues reflect more hotel and motel stays.
In summary, the forecast for Mesa County in 2013 is mostly upbeat, according to the Colorado Business Economic Outlook: “Mesa County continues to see signs of a recovery through the growth of its industries, an increasing annual wage rate and population growth. The decrease in unemployment is a good sign for county residents and helps to build confidence. Mesa County will grow and change along with the region and the state as the country continues to recovery from the recession.”
Statewide, Wobbekind said Colorado could rank among the top 10 states in the country for job growth in 2013. The education and health care sector is expected to add 7,600 jobs next year, followed close behind by professional and business services with 7,400 new jobs and the construction sector with 6,300 additional positions.
Wobbekind said he expects $12.6 billion worth of new construction in 2013 with increased demand for infrastructure and multifamily housing.
“Confidence levels nationally are at their highest levels in five years. We’re really starting to see a lot more optimism on the part of the average person on the street about the future,” Wobbekind said.