Area vital signs stable, report says

The Western Slope’s economy continues to be Colorado’s fastest growing regional economy despite a national downturn, according to economic forecasts released Monday.

The region’s growth and strong employment are being “driven by the boom in the oil and gas industry,” according to the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council.

“Although other regions of the state are experiencing sluggish spending, retail sales in the western region continue to grow strongly,” forecasters reported.

Housing construction on the Western Slope, however, slowed during the first four months of 2008, with the number of residential construction permits falling 31.2 percent in Mesa County and 57.2 percent in Montrose County.

Commercial construction also slowed during the first four months of 2008, dropping 77.7 percent, as part of “a return to normal levels after unsustainable increases in 2007.”

The Western Slope’s growth comes as Colorado has largely weathered the national economic downturn, according to the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budget.

“Colorado’s economy continues to show that it is more resilient and perhaps better poised to rebound from the current national financial turmoil than the national economy,” the forecast said. “By comparison, Colorado is experiencing lower unemployment, greater job growth and lower inflation than the nation overall.”

Even so, the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee could be forced to chop tens of millions of dollars from the state’s 2008-09 budget.

The Office of State Planning and Budget projected little to no change in its revenue forecasts while the Colorado Legislative Council projected the need for nearly $100 million in budget cuts.

The panel’s two Western Slope representatives, Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, and Al White, R-Hayden, encouraged the panel to cut spending now instead of waiting for the next quarterly forecasts.

“I don’t think we can put off acting for very long,” Buescher said.


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