Here’s hoping a new year really will be a happy one

The calendar changes with the new year. But what about the fortunes of Grand Valley businesses? Will they change, too? The extent to which the new year actually will be happy depends on the answer to that question.

Fortunately, the outlook is improving. At least that’s the assessment of three economists who closely monitor business and economic conditions in Colorado. In telephone interviews with the Grand Valley Business Times and in a presentation hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the economists said the transition from recession to recovery should continue and businesses will add to payrolls.

Of course, economic forecasts always seem to come with caveats.

In this case there are two big ones: growth will remain slower and unemployment rates higher as the Colorado recovery lags behind other areas of the nation.

Since the runup that preceded the recession was much higher in the Grand Valley in terms of the economy, payrolls and housing prices, the decline has been more pronounced. Consequently, the area could lag behind the rest of the state as the recovery gains traction.

A spike in the monthly unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County to 9.8 percent in November offered an unpleasant reminder of just how far the local labor market has to go to return to anything close to resembling pre-recession levels.

As for housing, the Mesa County market remains on pace for about 2,500 real estate transactions in 2010, one of the lowest annual totals in 20 years.

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots, too, particularly in rising sales tax collections, a measure of retail sales. Mesa County has reported fourth straight months of increased collections compared to the same months last year. The November report reflected the largest year-over-year proportional gain in three years. The City of Grand Junction has reported five straight months of increases. County and city tax collections year-to-date remain below last year, but the upward trend is welcome.

Meanwhile, it’s important to remember that business goes on, sometimes even brisk business, and that some companies continue to open new and expanded facilities. The brand new, 58,000-square-foot City Market store on 24 Road in Grand Junction offers a compelling example. Construction continues on two new hotels in Grand Junction.

A new furniture store also is scheduled to open.

Given the downturn over the past two years, a new year likely will be happy for many business owners and managers simply because it will be new. The past is behind them and there’s promise for better times ahead.

Here’s wishing Grand Valley businesses a happy — and, hopefully, prosperous — new year.