Grand Valley, Mountain West lag nation in job recovery, report says

Grand Junction’s economy lost more jobs and saw greater declines in housing prices over 2009 than many other small metropolitan areas in the Intermountain West, a region that remains battered by the national recession, a quarterly report says.

“This recession marks the first time in three decades that the Intermountain West has lagged the nation in terms of job recovery,” the Mountain Monitor noted, calling the phenomenon “jarring and new.”

The Mountain Monitor is produced by Brookings Mountain West, a partnership between the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

The report highlights a change that has occurred across the Mountain West, said Mark Muro, fellow and policy director for the metropolitan policy program at Brookings.

“In past recessions, rapid (migration into the region) and ready spending ensured that the region snapped back from every reversal with massive job creation,” Muro said in an e-mail. “This time, migration has slowed and domestic spending is muted, so consumption is down and home buying is restrained, and with it job creation. So what’s broken down is the traditional real-estate-based growth machine.”

The Grand Valley ranked 12th among 17 small metro areas included in the Mountain Monitor’s survey of economic conditions.

The percentage-point increase in the Grand Valley unemployment rate, 4.6, was nearly double the 2.6 percentage-point average increase the Monitor noted among small metros, but the drop in housing prices, 0.9 percent, was well below the average drop in prices for the 17 surveyed small metro areas.

Metro areas on Colorado’s Front Range filled four of the top five spots among the smaller metro areas surveyed in the Monitor.

The Fort Collins-Loveland metro area topped the list, followed by Boulder. Pueblo came in fourth and Greeley fifth in the list of top performers. Las Cruces, N.M., was in third place.

Even though it was strongest of the small-city economies measured by the Monitor, the Fort Collins-Loveland metro area still saw a 3.3 percent decline in housing prices in 2009 and a 1.1 percentage-point increase in unemployment.

Still, the Mountain Monitor said, the Intermountain West’s “recovery from the Great Recession is spreading. Output is growing in every metropolitan area. Still, hiring remains elusive — a fact frustrating the entire nation, but perhaps more so in a region used to snapping, even roaring, back from recessions faster than the rest of the nation.”

Grand Junction and other metro areas need to seek new sources of growth, “whether in technology, clean energy, exports, or new industry clusters,” Muro said.

“The old housing- and tourism-based Big Rock Candy Mountain isn’t available now,” Muro said. “The West needs to develop a new game.”


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