We’re all ready to put the COVID-19 pandemic in our collective rearview mirror. Many businesses have closed — some permanently. A fragmented work force and degraded academic system are among just a few of the other aftermaths.
The pandemic also has given us some time to reflect on our lives — a search for value that’s caused an upheaval like no other. With the ability to telecommute, many people look for communities that bring that value to their lives.
The migration has been apparent in Grand Junction. We see more and more out-of-state license plates and engage in more and more conversations with new neighbors. The resounding message: People are moving to Grand Junction to get away from the crime, pollution, traffic and other baggage that comes with big city life.
Increased liquidity constitutes another driving metric. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of Americans put their stimulus checks into savings and more than 50 percent paid down debt. Credit card debt is down 12 percent to 15 percent from a year ago, according to CreditCards.com. Each round of stimulus checks was allocated differently between expenses, debt payoff and savings. Habits also varied among social classes. In most cases, however, the additional money provided increases in income, savings and spending. While the deployment of this liquidity takes many forms, money is being pumped into our economies at an astounding rate.
For communities like Grand Junction, the bang for the buck on housing remains attractive for outsiders looking in. In the same search for value, investors look at places like Grand Junction as new hot spots for deploying capital.
First it was toilet paper, now it’s jobs. America faces a labor shortage. The retail and service sectors suffer the most. There are myriad reasons why someone might not to return to work. Many make this choice for financially rational reasons: unemployment benefits, low wages, lack of affordable childcare and sufficient savings to take time off or retire. Other notable reasons include health concerns, a continued desire to work from home and dissatisfaction with their most recent employment.
How are employers enticing employees to return to work? Many employers have increased minimum wages. Starbucks has plans for $15 an hour. Chipotle, McDonald’s, Target and Walmart are already there. There’s also talk of increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 an hour.
When wages aren’t enough of an incentive, employers offer referral and signining bonuses. The Colorado Jumpstart program promises $1,200 to unemployment benefit recipients who return to work and stay on the job at least eight weeks.
Some employers also see the benefits of moving their work forces to communities that offer better lifestyles. This element seems to have an intrinsic value that exceeds the compensation conversation from the past. When employees have the outdoor experience Western Colorado has to offer in their back yards, that tends to draw a different value association into the conversation. Maybe everything isn’t about money, but rather the lives we lead.
Issues with construction and manufacturing supply chains constitute yet another topic of conversation. These disruptions have direct ties to the pandemic and labor shortages. Of course, geopolitical factors and natural disasters also played roles. Such commodities as agricultural products, lumber, semiconductors and steel are in short supply,
In turn, prices are rising — in some cases dramatically. By one estimate, lumber prices have increased about 250 percent. This being said, slowing in commodities futures trading indicates there’s less confidence prices will continue to increase at such rates.
An evening out will play a positive role in the continued growth of the Grand Valley, which still has a price point that’s a fraction of what many are used to in large cities or mountain towns.
What does this all mean for Grand Junction? It feels as though we’re in a perfect storm. With large tech employers looking to move sizable work forces, the liquidity in the market, the affordability of our community and all the lifestyle amenities, many likely will make Western Colorado their new home.