Economy improving, but patience required

Economic forecasts are lot like … well, opinions, in that it seems everyone has one. Nonetheless, there’s a growing consensus economic conditions are improving in the Grand Valley and that light at the end of the tunnel might not be a train after all. As usual, though, there are caveats. And still more patience likely will be required of business owners and managers — not to mention people looking for jobs — before recovery really takes hold.

The most promising news comes from the latest results of twice-a-year membership surveys conducted by the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce. Business owners and managers are generally more upbeat about the Grand Valley economy, including their expectations for sales and hiring.

Fully 32 percent of those responding to the latest survey said they’re more optimistic now about economic conditions than they were six months ago. Meanwhile, 36 percent of respondents expect increased company sales. And the proportion of respondents planning to increase staffing exceeded the proportion of those planning layoffs for the first time since the surveys began in 2008.

If nothing else, the mere perception of an improving economy can help in terms of promoting a little more spending by consumers who’ve long been cautious.

There are other encouraging signs the labor market could be improving. The ratio of job openings to job applicants has increased at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, a reflection of increasing demand. The center has been posting between 175 and 200 job orders a day, double the level in late 2009.

A monthly index tracking economic conditions for small businesses in Colorado dipped slightly in April, but continues to forecast growth as an improving national economy bolsters the state economy.

And there’s also at least a measure of consolation in the fact that conditions in the Grand Valley remain better than many other areas of the country. John Silvia, chief economist for Wells Fargo, said the local labor and housing markets might be down, but don’t suffer the kinds of structural problems that pose long-term challenges elsewhere.

The economy nationally and in the Grand Valley has been slow to recover from the Great Recession, painfully slower than in past recoveries. And it’s likely going to take a while longer, perhaps even another year, before more progress is realized. But there’s a growing sense we’re headed in the right direction.