CU forecast: Mesa County outlook “exceptionally positive.”

Richard Wobbekind

Phil Castle, The Business Times

After lagging behind for years, the Grand Valley is doing better economically in some respects than other areas of Colorado.

And the outlook for 2020 remains mostly upbeat, says Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the research division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “The news just keeps getting better.”

The division compiles the annual Colorado Business Economic Outlook with sections for various industry sectors and geographic regions. More than 100 business, education and government officials contributed to the 2020 report. Steve Jozefcyzk, deputy director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, and Mara Hardy, business development manager at GJEP, contributed to the section about Mesa County.

“The business and economic outlook for Mesa County is exceptionally positive,” the report states. “A low
unemployment rate, growing diversification of industries, strong real estate market and unique development opportunities position Mesa County well for continued growth in 2020.”

Wobbekind reviewed the economic indicators upon which that forecast was based in a presentation hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

“You’re really looking better,” he says.

Employment has increased in Mesa County, with the biggest payroll gains in the wholesale, retail and manufacturing sectors, he says. In contrast to statewide labor trends, there were no net gains in professional and business services or the leisure and hospitality sector.

While the overall labor force in Mesa County hasn’t yet returned to its pre-recession peak, personal income has. With average annual wages going up  — to $44,431 in 2018 — residents have more spending power, he says.

Gross domestic product, a broad measure of the total value of goods and services, has increased in Mesa County at an annual rate above 5 percent, Wobbekind says.

In addition, the total value of construction has increased in Mesa County with growth in nonresidential building, Wobbekind says.

Home prices continue to appreciate, he says. Grand Junction posted the biggest one-year gain among Colorado cities, according to information reported by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Low natural gas prices are likely to persist and limit exploration and production in Western Colorado unless natural gas can be piped or liquified and shipped to other markets, he says

Coal production likely will continue to trend downward unless more coal is exported to other countries.

The outlook is better for the agricultural sector, though, and that could bode well for Western Colorado, Wobbekind says. Farm revenue and income has increased and there’s a prospect for increased lamb exports to Australia and New Zealand and increased pork exports to China because of the likelihood of shortages in those countries.

The Grand Junction Regional Airport also contributes to growth in the Mesa County economy with increased commercial air traffic and decreased fares, he says.

One less encouraging — and surprising — indicator was a decrease in bank deposits in Mesa County that could in turn affect lending levels, Wobbekind says. But many of the banks in Mesa County are branches of state and national operations with resources from outside the county, he says.

Mesa County also could face some of the same headwinds as the rest of Colorado and the United States, Wobbekind says,  in a tight labor market, the effects of trade tariffs and the uncertainty associated with a presidential election year. In addition, weather affects the agriculture and tourism sectors.