There’s light at the end of the pandemic tunnel

It appears there’s some light at the end of the proverbial pandemic tunnel.

The latest results of surveys of Colorado business leaders, small business owners and consumers reflect increasingly upbeat expectations for the months ahead. That’s welcome news for weary business owners and managers who’ve endured the effects and restrictions of COVID-19 for more than a year.

The Leeds Business Confidence Index rose 16.5 points to 64.4 for the second quarter. The index moved even higher to 68.8 for the third quarter, the highest overall score in the 19-year history of the index.

The Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder calculates the index based on the results of surveys of business leaders across the state and industry sectors. Readings above 50 reflect more positive than negative responses. For the second quarter, all six of the metrics the index tracks increased to levels above 50. Confidence in the Colorado economy jumped 21.4 points to 68.3.

On a national scale, small business owners were also more upbeat in their latest responses to a survey upon which the Small Business Optimism Index is based. The index rose 2.4 points in March to 98.2. With the gain, the index topped its 47-year average of 98 for the first time since November. Seven of 10 components of the index advanced, including the outlook for the economy, capital outlays and staffing.

A measure of consumer confidence soared in March to its highest level since the onset of the pandemic on more upbeat assessments of business and labor conditions. The Consumer Confidence Index jumped 19.3 points to 109.7 in March. Consumer sentiment is important because consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity in the United States.

In Mesa County, still other indicators signal an improving economy.

Sales tax collections, a measure of retail activity, increased on a year-over-year basis in March as well as the first quarter, according to the latest reports from the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County. For the first quarter, city sales tax collections increased 7.8 percent and county collections rose 9.3 percent.

Real estate activity remains brisk in Mesa County despite low residential housing inventories.

For the first quarter, real estate transactions increased 22 percent and dollar volume rose 31.5 percent compared to the same span last year. Residential sales and dollar volume also increased despite a 73.8 percent drop in the number of active listings between the end of March in 2020 and the end of March in 2021. 

The pace of new home construction has picked up to fill some of the gap. For the first quarter, 274 permits for single-family homes were issued in Mesa County, an increase of 100 permits and 57.5 percent over the first quarter of 2020.

Yet another economic indicator isn’t yet as rosy, however. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County slipped two-tenths of a point in February. But at 7.8 percent, the jobless rate remains nearly double the level of a year ago just before the onset of the pandemic. The rate is expected to drop, however.

As if we needed the reminder, the pandemic assured everyone nothing in this life is certain. That includes the ongoing influence of COVID-19 and its variants as well as the long-term fallout. There’s more hope, at least, that as vaccinations increase and infections decrease our lives and businesses will return to something a bit more normal. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.