In the Grand Valley, good news tempers bad

While the widespread effects of a slowdown in the energy sector continue to show up in labor and tax collection numbers, there’s more upbeat news in the Grand Valley from other sectors in the opening of a new hospital and grocery store. The outlook for continued improvement in the real estate market also offers a measure of encouragement.

Let’s start with the bad news. According to the latest available estimates, the unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped three-tenths of a point to 5.7 percent in January. The increased wasn’t surprising given the jobless rate typically spikes in to its highest level of the year in the first month of the year. What’s more disconcerting is the shrinking labor force, a trend attributed in part to layoffs in the energy sector related to low oil and natural gas prices.

There was more bad news in the latest numbers for sales and use tax collections. Mesa County reported a 3.1 percent decline in combined sales and use tax collections in February compared to the same month last year. Collections also fell in January, and the back-to-back drop was the first for the county since 2013. Sales and use tax collections for Grand Junction were essentially flat in February with a two-tenths of a point increase over last year. While a number of factors could be involved in lagging tax collections, the slowdown in the energy sector was among those cited by local officials.

Fortunately, there’s some good news to report as well, including the opening of the new Community Hospital and a new City Market grocery store in Grand Junction.

A tour of the new hospital before its scheduled opening March 17 afforded a sneak peek at a remarkable facility that adds to what’s become a health care hub in Western Colorado. That’s doubly good not only in providing excellent services for Grand Valley residents, but also bringing in people from throughout the region.

By the way, the building that housed the old Community Hospital will be renovated and repurposed into a new home for the health sciences program at Colorado Mesa University as CMU continues to upgrade and expand its campus. Talk about a win-win situation.

The opening of a long-planned City Market near 12th Street and Patterson Road adds to the constellation of retail outlets large and small in the Grand Valley.

There’s more good news in the outlook for the real estate market in Mesa County. According to a forecast prepared by Bray Real Estate, sales and median prices are expected to increase in 2016.  A potential increase in new home construction could bring with it additional jobs. By one rule of thumb, the construction of 100 new homes would create the equivalent of 30 new jobs.

On the one hand, downturns in employment and tax collections reflect the ripple effects of slowing in the energy sector and the significant influence of that industry on the Grand Valley. On the other hand, there are indications the economy is becoming more diversified with the opening of new facilities in the health care, retail and educational sectors.

It’s impossible to eliminate the negative. That’s just the nature of business. But hopefully there’ll be additional opportunities in the Grand Valley to accentuate the positive.