Unwrapping the gift of economic forecasts

For years, Christmas came early for Mesa County businesses. And we’re not just talking about the holiday shopping season and retailers. Annual reports invariably forecast continued economic growth in the year ahead. The report for 2020, for example, characterized the outlook as not only positive, but exceptionally positive.

That didn’t happen, of course. But who could have envisioned the coronavirus pandemic or what were the pervasive effects of COVID-19 and related health restrictions?

As with everything else that’s occurred in 2020, the latest forecast is different, too. It’s a Christmas gift of a different sort. Not a lump of coal, certainly. Maybe a nice pair of socks. Or perhaps — given the uncertainty of the pandemic, vaccines and a multitude of other factors — a package that could take some time to unwrap.

Here’s the summary for Mesa County in the Colorado Business Economic Outlook for 2021: “While the pandemic has had an impact on all aspects of the community, the county is recovering and outperforming other counties and the state. The community in the Grand Valley is resilient and will continue to forge ahead in the face of adversity.”

There are encouraging trends. On the other hand, challenges persist.

First, some good news. Nonfarm payrolls have rebounded in Mesa County to employment levels before the onset of the pandemic. Wages and personal income have trended upward as well. All that bodes well for the local economy and prospects for the continued sale of goods and services.

Construction activity has increased, and the real estate market remains healthy overall. Mesa County has experienced one of the biggest increases in home price appreciation in Colorado, yet prices here remain below other areas of the state.

Now some bad news. The outlook is less upbeat for the leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, hotels and businesses reliant in part on tourism. Enplanements at the Grand Junction Regional Airport — the number of people boarding commercial flights — has dropped more than 40 percent on a
year-over-year basis. Lodging tax collections — a measure of hotel and motel stays in Grand Junction, was down 32.4 percent through the first 11 months of 2020 compared to the same span in 2019. It’s too early to tell when people will feel comfortable to travel again.

The energy sector, another important contributor to the Western Colorado economy, has suffered as exploration and development activity has slowed.

Of course, economic forecasts offer no guarantees what’s expected will become reality. Look what happened in 2020. Similarly, past performance offers no guarantee of future results — either bad or good.

As the report for 2021 notes, however, the community in the Grand Valley is resilient. That includes businesses that have not only faced existential challenges, but also developed innovative ways in which to continue providing goods and services.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, there’s hope.

Here’s hoping, then, the new year really will be happy. That a good year awaits, one of improving health and prosperity.