Pandemic analysis projects Mesa County job loss at 3 percent

Robin Brown

Job losses in Mesa County in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic are forecast to total 3 percent by the close of 2021, according to the results of survey conducted to assess the effects of the pandemic on local businesses.

“Our findings indicate that Mesa County has experienced a relatively low impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, which suggests we are somewhat an anomaly in the state — and perhaps the country,” said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

GJEP joined with Colorado Mesa University to conduct the analysis, the first phase of which involved a survey of businesses across industry sectors in Mesa County in proportion to employment in those sectors. Restaurant and retail businesses were excluded, though, because they were considered primarily affected by government shutdowns and regulations rather than consumer confidence or economic conditions.

“Our goal with this analysis was to bridge the cap between industry sectors and get a broader perspective of the long-term effects of the pandemic on our entire business community,” Brown said. “Equipped with this information, we can confidently forecast the economic recovery trajectory for Mesa County.”

Nathan Perry, an economics professor at CMU, and the GJEP staff developed the 30-question survey. GJEP staff telephoned businesses and followed up with emails with links to the survey.  With responses from 276 businesses, the results represented a total of 9,836 employees.

Nearly 40 percent of the businesses that responded reported a less than 25 percent drop in business income, while 28 percent reported a 25 percent to 50 percent reduction and 19 percent reported a loss of more than 50 percent. About 13.5 percent of businesses reported no loss.

About 43 percent of businesses reported their operations changed negatively as a result of the pandemic, while about 37 percent reported their operations changed both positively and negatively.  Another 15 percent reported no changes.

More than 60 percent of businesses reported no changes in regular hours of operation, while about 35 percent reported a decrease.

Businesses responding to the survey reported laying off on average more than 13 percent of their work forces to date and expect to lay off just over 7 percent of their work forces over the next six months.

Businesses projected total layoffs of 2,089 by 2021.

Businesses also reported taking or considering other steps as a result of the pandemic, including reduced hours or salaries, unpaid furlough days and suspended bonuses.

About 68 percent of businesses responding to the survey reported applying for and receiving assistance through the federal Payroll Protection Program, while about 26 percent of businesses didn’t apply for loans or grants.

About 45 percent of businesses estimated they can continue operations for six to 12 months if the economy doesn’t improve. About 17 percent estimated they can continue operations two to five months, and about 5 percent  estimated less than two months.

A total of 86 percent of the businesses reported they were very or moderately informed about available resources to help them respond to the pandemic. They cited government websites, news media and local chambers of commerce as their top sources for information.

Brown said GJEP plans to conduct similar surveys twice a year to assess economic conditions and guide development efforts.