While seldom heard, discouraging words about economy not yet gone

Like the song about the home on the range, the latest assessments of business and economic conditions in the Grand Valley grow increasingly upbeat. Seldom is heard a discouraging word.

Alison Felix, an economist who serves as a vice president and Denver branch executive for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said as much in a recent forum in Grand Junction. Colorado and Grand Junction payrolls and populations have grown even as unemployment rates have dropped. Most industries are performing well, Felix said, including the services sector and manufacturing.

While Fed economists undeniably know their stuff, perhaps the more compelling indicators are the observations of government officials in the Grand Valley. Eight of those officials shared their overviews of local economic conditions during the latest State of the Valley event hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

From Palisade to Grand Junction to Fruita and other areas of Mesa County, the outlook was generally upbeat. Officials cited increased development, business openings and tax revenues as signs of growth.

There’s an important distinction, though, between seldom and never when it comes to discouraging words.

Felix said the agricultural sector — an important component of the Grand Valley economy — is among the weakest sectors with low commodity prices and declining farm incomes. Low prices also have resulted in weakness in the natural gas sector. State regulatory changes could affect the energy industry as well, she said, although it’s too early to tell to what extent.

Meanwhile, local government officials said growing gains could come with some growing pains. Grand Junction City Manager Greg Caton mentioned one growth “pressure” in increased traffic. Mesa County Administrator Frank Whidden mentioned another in the potential effects of urbanization on wineries, orchards and other agricultural operations in the Grand Valley.

Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis proposed a toast at the State of the Valley event in celebration of precipitation that’s brought a reprieve to drought conditions. But the availability of water remains a “huge issue,” McInnis warned.

The moral of any story about business and economic conditions is that those conditions change. The changes that have occurred in the Grand Valley in the aftermath of a stubbornly slow recovery couldn’t be more welcome. There’s growing confidence conditions finally have improved and the trend could continue. Add to that a growing recognition — particularly along the Front Range of Colorado — of the Grand Valley as an attractive place in which to not only play, but also live and work.

There’s never time, though, to rest on laurels however comfortable that prospect. Efforts to recruit new companies, diversify the economy and strengthen existing business must go on in good times with as much urgency as they do in bad.

Here’s hoping that in our home in the valley, discouraging words about the economy remain seldom heard.