On the other hand, outlook remains encouraging

The maddening thing about economics is there’s always more than one way to look at the numbers.

On the one hand, the latest unemployment rate in Mesa County rose another three-tenths of a point in July. On the other hand, rising sales tax collections in the county and City of Grand Junction, reflect increasing retail activity. On the one hand, Mesa County continues to lag behind other metropolitan areas in Colorado in several measures of economic performance. On the other hand, home prices are rising faster in Mesa County than most of those other areas.

It’s no wonder President Harry Truman famously asked — perhaps not entirely in jest — for a one-armed economist.

Considered another way, is the proverbial glass that represents the Grand Valley economy half empty or half full? Less than four months ago, a story in the Business Times answered that question with a third option: the glass is bigger. There’s no reason to believe that’s substantially changed.

The discouraging words come from the latest labor estimates for Mesa County and a midyear economic update from the University of Colorado.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate climbed to 3.9 percent in July and now stands a full point above May, when the jobless rate stood at an 11-year low. However, the changes that go into determining the jobless rate were small: 183 more people were counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work, while payrolls edged down 94. Such small changes become more pronounced when the unemployment rate is lower.

The fact more people are looking for work isn’t a bad thing in a tight labor market. Moreover, there’s a good possibility more people are moving from the Front Range to Mesa County before they secure jobs.

Among other things, the midyear update offers a comparison of how seven metro areas of Colorado rank in terms of employment growth, per capita income, unemployment rates and home prices. Mesa County lags behind other metro areas for employment growth and per capita income, but fares better for its jobless rate and particularly rising home prices in a market where demand has outpaced home inventories.

Interestingly enough, employment statewide has grown faster than initially expected with nonfarm payrolls now expected to swell by 62,000 by the end of the year. The energy and construction sectors drive a lot of that growth.

Meanwhile, sales tax collections continue to rise at an impressive clip for Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction, offering a promising indicator of increased sales in not only the retail sector, but also the automotive, home improvement and restaurant categories.

As the cover story in this issue details, the economy appears to be firing on all cylinders in Fruita with the opening of new businesses, the expansion of existing businesses and growing residential development. The one word officials use over and over to describe the situation is this: exciting.

On the one hand, not all of the numbers offer encouragement at the same time. They rarely do. On the other hand, the overall outlook remains encouraging — exciting even.

The maddening thing about economics is also the important thing about economics. There’s always more than one way to look at the numbers.