The road ahead: Mesa County outlook “extremely positive”

Where does the economic road head for Grand Junction and Mesa County? A robust real estate market, growing diversification and unique development opportunities signal an “extremely positive” outlook, according to an annual forecast compiled by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Where does the economic road head for Grand Junction and Mesa County? A robust real estate market, growing diversification and unique development opportunities signal an “extremely positive” outlook, according to an annual forecast compiled by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The economic outlook for Mesa County remains upbeat with job and wage growth, increasing diversification, a robust real estate market and unique development opportunities.

Richard Wobbekind
Richard Wobbekind

“The news is actually really good,” said Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the research division at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The division compiles an annual economic forecast for Colorado with sections for various industry sectors and geographic regions. More than 100 business, industry and government officials contribute to the report. Steve Jozefcyzk, deputy director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, and Mara Hardy, business development manager at GJEP, contributed to the section about Mesa County.

“The business and economic outlook for Mesa County is extremely positive,” the report stated.

Wobbekind agreed in both a telephone interview with the Business Times and presentation at a quarterly meeting of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Job growth in the wholesale, manufacturing and health care sectors reflects an economy that’s increasingly diversified and decreasingly reliant on cycles in the energy and agricultural sectors, Wobbekind said. Moreover, the comparatively lower cost of living, especially for housing, will attract more people and businesses from the Front Range to the Grand Valley, he said. “It gives you a tremendous advantage over here.”

Economic output, nonfarm payrolls, wages, income and bank deposits all have rebounded in Mesa County after steep downturns in regional energy production and the overall economy, Wobbekind said.

As of October, the latest month for which estimates are available, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County stood at 3.6 percent. That’s two-tenths of a point higher than the same month last year, but 1.2 points below the rate in January. In May, the jobless rate dropped to 2.9 percent, its lowest level since 2007.

As of October, Mesa County payrolls had increased 1,217 — nearly 1.7 percent — over the past year. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 1,393, but at 76,840 remains below pre-recession peak.

Wobbekind said employment has increased 8.3 percent over the past year in  the wholesale trades sector, 4.5 percent in the education and health services sector,
4 percent in the transportation sector and 3.2 percent in the manufacturing sector.

The Mesa County work force has yet to rebound to pre-recession levels bolstered at that time by a boom in regional natural gas development, Wobbekind said. But total wages have topped the previous peak, giving consumers more spending power, he said.

Meanwhile, real estate activity continues to increase in Mesa County. Through November, 5,366 transactions worth a total of more than $1.45 billion were reported. Year-to-date transactions and dollar volume have already exceeded year-end numbers for 2017. 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.

As of November, residential real estate activity had increased on a year-over-year basis with a 4.8 percent gain in transactions and 14 percent jump in dollar volume. The median price of homes sold in Mesa County has advanced 7.8 percent to $235,000. Year-to-date single family home building permits were up  21 percent.

Jozefczyk and Hardy noted in their contributions the prospects for continued growth in the health care, education and  manufacturing sectors as well as tourism.

Jozefczyk and Hardy also cited the effects of incentives to relocate or start businesses in Mesa County. Thirteen companies have been approved for  the Rural Jump Start Program offering qualifying businesses exemptions from state income, use and sales taxes as well as county and municipal personal property taxes. In addition, seven so-called opportunity zones have been established in Mesa County under a federal program offering tax breaks for relocating or starting businesses in those zones.

In addition, the two mentioned development opportunities in the Las Colonias and Dos Rios business parks in Grand Junction as well as a commercial and industrial park in Fruita.

Wobbekind said a combination of factors make Mesa County an increasingly attractive location for people and businesses, including the comparatively lower cost of housing, ready access to outdoor recreation and health care and an airport. “All of these help make it a more vibrant area.”