Discouraging words few, but encouraging efforts still needed

A cursory look at the headlines on the Business Times website creates the impression there’s seldom to be read a discouraging word about the local, state and national economies.

Increasing real estate activity portends what could be a record year for the Mesa County market. Sales tax collections — a key measure of sales — continue to rise. New business filings in Colorado forecast job growth even as payrolls swell nationwide. Meanwhile, small business owners as well as consumers remain upbeat in their assessments of business and labor conditions. Even those who are by their nature more pessimistic would agree the proverbial glass is more than half full.

Things could always be better, though, particularly in an area like the Grand Valley that’s lagged behind other places in Colorado and United States in recovering from the recession. Although the Grand Valley has moved closer to where the economy was before the recession, it hasn’t quite returned to that point — particularly given the overall labor force in Mesa County remains about 11,000 below its peak level in 2009.

There’s more good news, though, in encouraging efforts to address the situation.

The Mesa County Workforce Center continues to strive to connect people looking for jobs with businesses looking for employees. A year-end report for the center reflects some success in that mission. The center helped nearly 2,900 people land jobs during 2017, topping the goal that had been set at the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, the center also staged 51 customized hiring events, served 987 employers and saved companies a total of $417,000 in training costs.

The Mesa County Workforce Center long has served as a model in operating a sort of one-stop shop that offers a range of services and resources. Yet, there are still those who don’t take full advantage of what’s offered there. The ongoing efforts of the center and increased participation of businesses in recruiting and training programs will go a long way toward bolstering the labor force.

Meanwhile, another group seeks support for efforts to attract more high-tech firms to the Grand Valley — along with the high-paying jobs and money that would help sustain the local economy.

The Western Colorado Engineering Foundation has realized one key goal in a growing engineering degree program offered by Colorado Mesa University based in Grand Junction and the University of Colorado at Boulder. CMU and CU announced the addition of an electrical and computer engineering degree to a program that also offers mechanical and civil engineering degrees. A university offering strong technical degree programs supplies the talent high-tech firms require.

In studying the efforts of small communities in rural areas of the United States that have experienced growth, the foundation discovered other commonalities, among them professional company relocation organizations with focused strategies and community leaders who support those efforts.

The foundation makes a good case in that software development and electromagnetic device manufacturers pay far higher salaries than businesses in other sectors. Moreover, high-tech firms export services and products that in turn bring money into the economy. The Grand Valley has some advantages in attracting high-tech firms with its lower housing costs and ample outdoor recreational opportunities.

Here’s hoping encouraging efforts to grow the Grand Valley labor force means there’ll be even fewer discouraging words to read about the economy.