Renewed efforts bode well for improving economy

It’s only natural at the end of one year to wonder what lies ahead in the next year. For business owners and managers making important decisions about their operations, there’s more than just curiosity at work. The business and economic outlook for the coming year plays a role in everything from determining staffing and inventories to deciding whether or not the timing might be right for expansion.

The business research division at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business offers some guidance in compiling an annual forecast. A total of more than 100 business, government and industry professionals contribute to the effort to prepare forecasts for 13 industry sectors as well as various geographic area.

So what’s in store for 2016?

The overall outlook for Colorado remains upbeat with continued growth, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. Nonfarm payrolls are expected to increase more than 65,000 next year with job growth in most sectors even as the statewide jobless rate remains at a level signaling full employment.

The situation’s a bit different in Mesa County, which hasn’t enjoyed the more robust recovery that’s occurred along the Front Range of Colorado. Consider, for example, that Mesa County ranks 171st among 201 small metropolitan areas across the United States in the latest analysis of how well those areas create and sustain jobs and economic growth. Four cities on the Front Range rank among the top 22 large metros.

While indicators for the housing market, retail activity and tourism all reflect improvement in Mesa County, the labor force continues to shrink. There are fewer jobs and fewer workers as low oil and natural gas prices slow energy exploration and production in the region.

Local officials remain encouraged, though, by other developments, in particular renewed efforts to promote economic development.

Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, believes the business and economic outlook for Mesa County is “trending positive” heading into 2016.

Pollard attributes her view in part to newly enacted state legislation that creates zones in which qualifying businesses are exempt from taxes and fees. The Jump Start Colorado program already has generated interest in development in Mesa County, she says.

At the same time, she says there’s been a growing commitment on the part of the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County to increase support for economic development efforts, in particular marketing.

And Pollard says local groups involved in economic development — including GJEP, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Business Incubator Center — are working closely together to recruit new businesses, assist existing businesses and grow startups.

Economic development constitutes a long-term endeavor with no schedule for success. Even if Pollard and others are encouraged, there’s no guarantee conditions will significantly improve in 2016. On the other hand, an ongoing effort to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses not only survive, but thrive, ultimately will pay off in a more diverse and therefore resilient Mesa County economy.

And that’s something to look forward to, if not in 2016, then the near future. The sooner the better.