Singing economic blues easier than curing them

If there’s a common denominator to recent business stories, its the growing realization it’s could take a more concerted effort to yank Western Colorado out of its economic doldrums.

Years after the official end to the Great Recession, the region continues to lag behind other areas of the state and country in recovering. It’s not that economic conditions remain as grim as they were in 2009. The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped to a five-year low even as real estate activity has rebounded to a five-year high. Nonethless, there’s a lingering sense conditions still fall short of anything resembling robust. Moreover, a shift in energy development from natural gas to oil doesn’t bode well for improving prospects.

So what can be done?

State Rep. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction, has called for a meeting with the governor and state economic development office to address the situation. Moreover, Scott has proposed a series of admittedly “ambitious” recommendations, including suspension of state regulations deemed to impede businesses as well as efforts to promote exports of natural gas and coal from the Western Slope.

The Western Colorado Manufacturing Alliance, a rebranded reincarnation of the Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council, has renewed its efforts to promote an important sector of the economy. Those efforts will include an April 10 summit in Grand Junction designed to make connections that lead to more collaboration.

Meanwhile, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has unveiled its latest business plan for the coming year and has once again set a series of goals chamber leaders hope will make a difference not only for members, but also the broader business community.

Diversity remains a crucial component of any economic development efforts, as the continued dependence of the Grand Valley economy on regional energy development has emphasized. The more diverse the economy, the greater its ability to weather cyclical downturns in a given sector or even a more broad-based slump. It’s particularly helpful when local companies export products and services and import dollars. 

As painful as the slow recovery in Western Colorado has been, consider how much much worse it could have been were it not for a measure of growth in other sectors, among them education and health care.

It’s also important to continue to differentiate what the Grand Valley offers from other areas in developing an effective brand. Ask just about anyone who lives here, and they’ll tell you the essence of that brand. The combination of climate, outdoor recreation and scenic landscape makes this a nice place to work and live.

Fortunately, the Grand Valley offers a solid foundation for economic development efforts as a regional hub for education, health care and shopping. Moreover, there’s a history of past successes upon which to build.

Nearly any and all efforts to improve economic conditions are welcome if for no other reason than to draw attention to the importance of good businesses and good jobs. But it should be a constant and consistent process — certainly in bad times, but also in good. As the past few years have demonstrated all too clearly, booms can turn to busts.