Looking for a silver lining? Latest trends offer one

The search for a silver lining in dark economic clouds goes on, particularly at a time of year when retailers gear up for the holiday shopping season and what they desperately hope really will be the most wonderful time of the year. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. For some trends, in fact, the news is increasingly good.

Let’s start with sales tax collections, which also happen to offer a key indicator of retail sales. For reports covering the first nine months of this year, sales tax collections for both the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County remain almost 9 percent ahead of the same span last year. The news is doubly encouraging since sales taxes constitute significant sources of the revenue that pay for local government services and the upward trend in collections will help to limit budget cuts next year.

Turning to the real estate market, another important component of the Grand Valley economy, trends similarly point to improving conditions. Real estate transactions through the first 10 months of the year topped the same span last year and remain on pace to exceed last year and end the downward trend that’s followed the most recent market peak in 2006. The dollar volume of real estate sales continues to lag behind last year as property foreclosures hold down prices. But there’s a measure of good news in signs foreclosure activity is slowing in Mesa County. Year-to-date foreclosure filings and sales both have dropped below levels of a year ago.

Of course, economic recovery ultimately depends on labor conditions and people going back to work. Once again, the outlook has improved in recent months. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped a full point to 8.5 percent in September, the latest month for which estimates are available. With declines in each of the last three months, the jobless rate has dropped to its lowest point in nearly two years. While payrolls and the overall work force still remain below levels of a year ago, the work force has grown even as the unemployment rate has shrunk.

The broader economic forecast for Colorado calls for steady, albeit moderate, recovery, on the strength of the energy, agriculture and tourism sectors. That bodes well given the prevalence of those three sectors on the Western Slope and in the Grand Valley.

The latest results of an annual job census for the solar energy industry ranks Colorado No. 1 in per capita employment in that industry and the solar work force nationwide is projected to grow 24 percent over the next year.

There’s still more good news in the recent opening of the American Furniture Warehouse outlet in Grand Junction as well as the announcement Sunflower Farmers Market expects to construct a 28,000 square-foot grocery store here next year. Many more smaller ventures open on a nearly daily basis as entrepreneurs continually look for ways to bring better products and services to market.

There’s no doubt the staggering effects of the Great Recession persist and likely will to do so for years in far more pervasive and pernicious ways than anyone has imagined. The construction industry in particular continues to suffer grievously. But for those looking for a silver lining in dark economic clouds, recent trends offer promise the news isn’t all bad. And that’s good news, indeed.