Mesa County drops in ranking of best-performing metros

Mesa County continues to drop in an annual ranking of how well small metropolitan areas create and sustain jobs and economic growth.

Mesa County fell nine spots from 162nd to 171st in the Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities index for 2015.

Illustrating the contrast between conditions in Mesa County and the Front Range of Colorado, four cities  there ranked among the top 22 large metro areas on the latest list.

The index considers job and salary growth as well as the economic output of high-tech companies in ranking 200 large and 201 small metropolitan areas across the United States.

The Milken Institute, a nonprofit think tank in California, promotes economic and policy solutions that create jobs, improve access to capital and enhance health.

Mesa County has ranked as high as third among small metro areas on the strength of what was during the energy boom that preceded the bust and one of the fastest-growing labor markets and economies in the country.

Mesa County has fared less well in the aftermath of downturns in both regional energy production and the broader economy and subsequent slow recovery.

For 2015, Mesa County ranked highest among small metro areas at 55th for one-year job growth between 2013 and 2014 relative to the national average. Mesa County ranked 91st for job growth between August 2014 and August 2015.

Mesa County ranked 162nd among the 201 small metro areas for job growth between 2009 and 2014 relative to the national average.

Mesa County came in at 172nd for wage and salary growth between 2012 and 2013 relative to the national average and 199th for wage and salary growth between 2008 and 2013 relative to the national average.

Mesa County also ranked low for two measures of the output of high-tech companies: 158th for growth between 2009 and 2014 relative to the national average and 175th for growth between 2013 and 2014 relative to the national average.

Pueblo, the only other Colorado city ranked among small metro areas in the 2015 index, dropped 44 spots but still came in at 81st overall.

Among the 200 large metropolitan areas ranked by the Milken Institute, Greeley came in highest among Colorado cities at ninth after moving up five spots from last year.

Fort Collins moved up three places to 14th, while the combined Denver, Aurora and Lakewood area slipped four spots to 16th. Boulder fell nine spots to 22nd.

Among small metropolitan areas, Fargo, N.D., remained the top-ranked location on the list with its diversified economy overcoming a downturn in the energy sector. Bismark, N.D., moved up two spots to second. Ames, Iowa, jumped 11 places to third, followed by the Jamesville-Beloit area of Wisconsin in fourth and Odessa, Texas, in fifth.

Among large metro areas, San Jose moved up three spots to No. 1. San Francisco dropped a spot to second, while the Provo and Orem area of Utah remained third. Austin followed at fourth and Dallas at fifth.

“This year’s Best-Performing Cities index tells a tale of two sectors — technology and oil— moving regional economies in opposite directions,” said Ross DeVol, chief research officer of the Milken Institute. “In the shale oil patch, plummeting energy prices are undercutting the performance of those metros reliant on the sector, such as Tulsa and El Paso. But in top 25 cities such as San Francisco, Austin, Seattle and Denver, the softer side of high tech is fueling urban economies.”