Mesa County falls in metro ranking

Grand Junction tumbled another 60 spots in the latest ranking of how well small metropolitan areas create and sustain jobs and economic growth.

The Grand Junction metropolitan statistical area, which equates to Mesa County, fell from 57th to 117th among 179 small metro areas ranked in the 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index.

The index is based on eight criteria, including employment and wage growth as well the economic output of high-tech companies. The Milken Institute, an economic think tank based in California, strives to help business and public policy leaders develop and implement ideas for promoting prosperity.

Mesa County ranked third in the index in 2009 and fifth in 2008 on the strength of what was at that time one of the fastest growing labor markets and economies in the country.

But conditions changed rapidly in the aftermath of downturns in natural gas exploration in Western Colorado as well as the broader economy. Mesa County dropped 54 spots in the 2010 ranking and even further in 2011.

Since the index is based in part on lagging measurements, Mesa County continued to fare well in a measurement of wage and salary growth between 2004 and 2009, ranking sixth among small metro areas. Mesa County ranked 23rd in a measurement of job growth between 2005 and 2010.

Mesa County fared less well in short-term measurements, ranking 133rd for wage and salary growth between 2008 and 2009 and 178th for job growth between 2009 and 2010.

The results were mixed for measures related to the economic output of high-tech companies. Mesa County ranked 91st for five-year growth in high-tech gross domestic product between 2005 and 2010 and 130th for one-year growth between 2009 and 2010.

Pueblo, the only other Colorado city ranked among small metro areas, moved up 24 spots to 21st in the 2011 index.

Logan, Utah, ranked first among small metro areas, followed by Bismarck, N.D.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Hinesville, Ga.; and the College Station and Byran area in Texas.

Among 200 large metropolitan areas ranked by the Milken Institute, the Fort Collins and Loveland area jumped 47 spots to rank third in the 2011 index. The Denver and Aurora area advanced 19 spots to rank 44th, while Boulder slipped three spots to 59th. Greeley rose 39 places to rank 62nd, while Colorado Springs climbed 18 spots to 81st.

Texas cities once again dominated the ranking of large metro areas. San Antonio ranked first and Texas metros capture four of the top five spots.

Ross DeVol, chief research officer at the Milken Institute, said the best-performing cities took advantage of increases in energy production as well as business investment. Cities with the most resilient housing markets also have experienced the most job growth, DeVol said.