Latest indicators offer a mix of good and bad

The right-hand column of the Trends page in the Business Times constitutes a proverbial dashboard in tracking key economic indicators for Mesa County, among them the monthly unemployment rate, real estate sales and tax collections.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all the indicators pointed at once to improving conditions? Unfortunately, that’s seldom — if ever — the case. Just like the newspaper business more generally, there’s always a mix of good news and bad news to report.

So what do the latest indicators, well … indicate? That good and bad things are happening in the economy.

Let’s start with the good.

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped seven-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in August. The jobless rate has retreated two months in a row in what’s typically a downward trend that should extend through the end of the year. The latest estimates show that between July and August, payrolls grew and the ranks of those counted as unsuccessfully looking for work shrank. Unfortunately, the Mesa County labor market hasn’t yet recovered from the recession to nearly the same extent as other areas of Colorado.

There’s even better news in the latest numbers for the real estate market with 487 transactions worth a total of $113 million closed in Mesa County in August. Compared to the same month last year, transactions jumped 44.9 percent and dollar volume rose 33.5 percent. Year-to-date numbers offer a broader look at the market and, again, the news is good. Through the first eight months of 2016, transactions were up 15 percent and dollar volume grew 8.3 percent.

Lodging tax collections, a key indicator of business for local hotels and motels, totaled $160,265 in August. That’s not only an increase of 5.1 percent over the same month last year, but also the highest level ever for an August in the history of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau, which uses lodging tax collections to promote travel and tourism in the area.

Now for the bad news.

Combined sales and use tax collections continue to decline for the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County. For August, the city reported a 6.6 percent drop compared to the same month last year. Mesa County reported an even bigger
year-over-year decline of 15.1 percent. Sales tax collections constitute a key measure of retail sales. But sales tax collections are also important as a major source of revenue for the city and county. And the downward trend in tax collections has forced the city and county to adjust budgets not only for this year, but next year.

It would be great if our economic dashboard indicated we were speeding along toward some great destination and everything was running smoothly.
The readings for the real estate market and especially the hotel and motel business couldn’t be much better. But other readings remain worrisome. When it comes to sales and use tax collections, the check engine light has come on.

It extend the metaphor a bit further, it goes to show regular maintenance is required to keep cars and economies in good running order. Even then, obstacles get in the way and force detours. All we can do is keep working and keep striving to move forward.