Paint-by-numbers economy: Picture both uplifting and worrisome

If the Mesa County economy were a paint-by-numbers portrait, some features would be bright and encouraging, but others still dark and discouraging. Count among the uplifting colors those associated with first-half numbers for sales and lodging tax collections and particularly real estate sales. Count among the ominous colors those associated with the latest numbers for the labor market.

Here’s a closer look at what’s what:

The City of Grand Junction reported collecting a total of nearly $24.9 million in sales and use taxes during the first half of 2015, a 3.3 percent increase over the first half of 2014. Mesa County reported collecting almost $15.75 million in taxes,
a year-over-year gain of 6.1 percent.

Lodging tax collections, a measure of hotel and motel stays in Grand Junction, totaled nearly $541,000 during the first half of 2015, a 4.6 percent increase over the same span in 2014.

A total of 1,937 real estate transactions worth a collective $466 million were reported in Mesa County during the first half of 2015. Compared to the first half of 2014, transactions rose 15.5 percent and dollar volume climbed 27 percent.

Midway through the year, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County stood at 6.6 percent, an increase of seven-tenths of a point over May to the highest level so far this year. At this time last year, the jobless rate was lower at 6.4 percent.

As of June, Mesa County payrolls were down 777 over the past year to 68,332. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, was down 689 to 73,138. The work force has shrunk more than 11,000 since peak employment topped 84,000 in November 2009.

The latest local indicators correspond roughly to a midyear statewide forecast prepared by the research division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. According to that forecast, the Colorado economy should continue to grow through the second half of 2015, but Mesa County continues to lag behind statewide averages for growth in employment, personal income and home prices.

The big picture, so to speak, illustrates that some parts of the Mesa County economy continue to recover, especially the real estate market. But the crucial labor market continues to struggle with higher unemployment rates and a shrinking work force. Here’s hoping all aspects of that picture soon show improvement.