Dairy is a bummer, but news not all bad

The closing of Graff Dairy in Grand Junction is disappointing on two levels.

First and foremost it was one of those small businesses that could be called an institution. It didn’t just offer a superior product (ice cream), it provided a shared experience that became part of the cultural fabric of the community and reached across generational lines.

When a business like Graff’s closes its doors, it feels like we’re losing a small piece of ourselves. Nostalgia aside, it also means job losses, which reinforces negative stereotypes about the strength of the local economy.

But Graff’s closing actually flies in the face of positive economic news: The unemployment rate for the Grand Junction area dropped to 6.3 percent in July — the lowest it’s been since January 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The picture for the state is even rosier. Colorado has recorded 33 consecutive months of job growth and ranks fifth in the nation for payroll job growth, a department spokesman said.

But as we know too well, Mesa County rarely reflects current statewide conditions. We trail the trend.

Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged the frustratingly slow recovery in some parts of the state: “We are focused on ensuring we foster a positive business climate ... and retaining our talented workforce,” he said. “We will continue to work together, work smart and work strategically until we see economic success in every corner of the state.”

The economy will be a big factor in November’s election. Look for Hickenlooper to defend his record of job creation and for Republican challenger Bob Beauprez to promote a regulatory overhaul aimed at attracting investment, new business and jobs.

Does anyone remember what living in a strong economy feels like? The last time we felt it locally, there was a palpable sense of optimism. Unfortunately it was fueled by a drilling boom and unsustainable growth in the real estate market. The real estate slump here lagged behind a subprime mortgage crisis that triggered a national banking emergency and gave rise to the Great Recession.

But there are hints that, nationally, we are crawling out of the hole toward a sweet spot. Economic forecaster Kiplinger says momentum is building toward a full-blow expansion by mid-2015: “... enough hiring and income gains to fuel spending by consumers, leading to more business investment and job creation, and hence to even more consumer spending.”

So, get some Graff Dairy ice cream while you can (before the end of the month), savor a spoonful of local history and look forward to some better days ahead.


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