What does a mixed bag hold in store, exactly?

Economic indicators almost always offer something of a mixed bag in reflecting encouraging and disappointing business trends, not to mention many points in between. In other words, they’re a collection of dissimilar items. Look up mixed bag in the dictionary, in fact, and it wouldn’t be surprising to read a reference to economic indicators.

The latest economic indicators for the Grand Valley once again fit the definition.

On the one hand, sales tax collections for Mesa County surged more than 15 percent in a comparison of February reports for 2012 and 2011. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in the county once again spiked in January, rising nearly a point to 9.6 percent. Yet, labor demand as measured by a separate indicator has increased to its highest level in four years.

While the number and dollar volume of real estate transactions in Mesa County in February posted substantial proportional gains over the same month last year, the property foreclosure rate in Mesa County ranked the highest among 12 metropolitan counties in Colorado.

Still other, seemingly incongruous, national indicators hold implications for the local economy. On the one hand, U.S. payrolls topped 200,000 for a third consecutive month with job growth spread across a range of industry sectors. On the other hand, the latest monthly measure of consumer confidence slipped. While consumers were more upbeat about present business and labor conditions, they were less enthusiastic in their expectations for the next six months.

So what, exactly, does a mixed bag hold in store for local businesses?

The roller coaster ups and downs of various economic indicators reflect what clearly remains an uneven ride. Nonetheless, there’s growing optimism among even skeptical economic prognosticators recovery is not only gaining traction, but also accelerating. Perhaps the most promising prospect of all is the cumulative effects of improving indicators. Consider this encouraging cycle: Job gains bolster incomes that in turn generate increased consumer demand for products and services. Businesses expand operations to keep pace and eventually hire more employees. And the cycle spirals upward.

Of course, some geographic areas and industry sectors lag behind others in fully realizing recovery. Having flown higher in the boom and fallen farther in the subsequent bust than other regions of the state and country, Western Colorado still has some catching up to do. The same holds true for several area industry sectors, the construction sector in particular.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that another economic aphorism holds true and that a rising tide eventually will lift all boats, even those in the high deserts of the Western Slope.