Report: Mesa County outlook “trending positive”

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The outlook for Mesa County remains positive as the unemployment rate declines, the real estate market strengthens and local economy diversifies.

Statewide, the pace of employment and population growth likely will slow in 2018. But every major industry sector will continue to add jobs, according to the latest results of an annual forecast compiled at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Richard Wobbekind
Richard Wobbekind

Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the business research division at the Leeds School of Business a CU, summarized the forecast in five words: “Solid, but a little slower.”

The division compiles  an annual business and economic outlook for Colorado with forecasts for 13 industry sectors as well as several regions. Business, industry and government officials from across the state contribute to the outlook. Steve Jozefcyzk, deputy director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, contributed information for the section on Mesa County.

“The business and economic outlook is trending positive for Mesa County,” the reported stated. “The declining unemployment rate, growing diversification of industries and a strong real estate market position Mesa County well for continued growth in 2018.”

Wobbekind said other factors also bode well for Mesa County, including improved outlooks for the energy and tourism sectors. In addition, growth that’s occurred along the Front Range likely will spread to the Western Slope and Grand Valley.

Steve Jozefczyk
Steve Jozefczyk

As of October, the latest month for which estimates are available, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County stood at 3.4 percent. That was four-tenths of a point higher than September, but eight-tenths of point lower than a year ago and close to the lowest level in more than a decade. Employment has remained nearly flat, though, with an increase in nonfarm payrolls of 1,215, or 1.7 percent, over the past year.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction has increased, jumping more than 48 percent in October compared to the same month last year.

The Mesa County population has increased — to 150,731 as of July 1, 2016. The county added as many people in 2016 as were added in 2010 to 2015 combined.

Meanwhile, the increasing sales activity that made 2017 the best year for real estate in Mesa County since before the recession is expected to continue in 2018.

Through November 2017, 4,906 transactions worth a total of nearly $1.2 billion were reported in Mesa County. That exceeds the year-end total of 2016. Annual real estate dollar volume in Mesa County peaked at $1.72 billion in 2006, bottomed out in the recession at $585 million in 2011 and has increased every year since.

The median sales price of a residential listing has increased 7.1 percent over the past year to $218,000.

New home construction has picked up as well. The number of single family building permits issued in Mesa County was up 43 percent through November over the same period in 2016.

Sales tax collections, a measure of retail sales activity, have increased as well. The City of Grand Junction reported collecting more than $37.3 million in sales taxes in 2017 through October, a 6 percent increase over the same span in 2016. Mesa County reported collecting more than $25.1 million, a jump of 7.4 percent.

The Rural Jump-Start Program offering tax incentives to businesses that create new jobs also was cited as contributing to the economic outlook Mesa County was the first county in Colorado accepted into the program. The companies that since have been approved to participate are projected to create a total of more than 600 jobs and $25 million in annual salaries by 2020.

Wobbekind said several sectors that play a large role in the Mesa County economy should grow in 2018. Slightly higher prices should help to bolster natural gas production. Tourism is expected to continue to grow as well, as will aviation and aerospace businesses.

Meanwhile, Grand Junction remains a regional hub for not only shopping, but also health care, he said.

While the pace of growth is expected to slow statewide, the population is expected to increase almost 91,000 in 2018, most of that from people moving to Colorado. A portion of the growing population will spread from the Front Range to other areas. The Grand Valley has become an increasingly attractive location, Wobbekind said.

The pace of job growth similarly will slow statewide in 2018, although every major sector still will add jobs, Wobbekind said.

Overall, nonfarm payrolls are forecast to grow 47,100 or about 1.8 percent. Professional and business services are expected to add 10,000 jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities sector is expected to add 8,700 jobs and the health and education services sector 8,400 positions.

Businesses face a shallow labor pool from which to draw, Wobbekind said. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado stood at 2.7 percent in October, below the 4.1 percent rate for the United States. “The national unemployment numbers are low, but the state unemployment numbers are incredibly low.”

Additional headwinds to the Colorado economy in 2018 could come from changing federal trade policies that could affect agricultural exports or weather-related conditions that could hurt the agriculture or ski industries.

The growing U.S. economy will continue to serve as a tailwind, as could proposed federal tax reforms, Wobbekind said.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a quarterly membership luncheon and economic outlook presentation for noon Dec. 18 at the Mesa County Workforce Center, 512 29 1/2 Road.
Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the business research division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder, will present the findings of the latest outlook report for the local, state and national economies. Admission is $18 for chamber members, $23 for others. For reservations or more information, call 242-3214 or visit www.gjchamber.org.