Slow growth better than no growth at all

Everyone tired of the well-worn phrase “challenging economic times” probably won’t like much better the latest description of growth in business revenues and hiring that’s, in a word, “slow.” But that’s the adjective that keeps coming up when economists and business owners talk about the economy. It’s little wonder the recovery doesn’t feel like much of a recovery.

The Business Times interviewed three economists who track conditions in Colorado to share their forecasts for the remainder of 2011. The three differed on some of the details. But the consensus is that those conditions are, indeed, improving — although, you guessed it, slowly. One economist predicted an increase of 10,100 new jobs in the state this year, while another said he expects payrolls to grow more than 18,000 during the remainder of the year. Strength in the agriculture, energy and tourism sectors should help bolster the economy in Western Colorado and Mesa County. Conversely, downturns in the housing market and construction sector continue to constitute drags.

The Business Times also interviewed local business owners and managers who offer what’s arguably a more important perspective because they track conditions through personal observations gleaned from day-to-day operations. Their reviews are mixed with reports ranging from flat sales to incremental improvement. For a separate story, the general manager of one energy equipment supplier talked about how his firm has had to move three times in three years because it has outgrown successively larger facilities.

And then there are the statistical indicators that offer still more signals about the direction of the economy. Sales tax collections,

a direct reflection of retail sales, are up for the first half of 2011 in Grand Junction and Mesa County, although there are concerns collections could lag during the second half. Depending on whose numbers you use, real estate sales were either up or at least held steady through the first half of the year, although the dollar volume of those sales was down along with home prices. The monthly unemployment rate hit 10.3 percent in June, down a tenth compared to the same month last year. But the far more troubling trend has been a decrease of nearly 3,500 in the local work force over that span.

Perhaps the best overall assessment of the situation is that the economy is better than it was during the recession, but not yet as as good as it was before the recession. While robust growth is preferable to slow growth, at least there’s a measure of consolation in the fact slow growth remains preferable to no growth at all.