‘Weathered worst of it,’ economist says

Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Business Research Center at the University of Colorado, addresses the state of Mesa County’s economy at the quarterly meeting of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce at Grand Vista Inn.

Short-term memories of the local economic collapse of 2009 have clouded people’s judgment of the current economic situation in Grand Junction, a Boulder economist told audience members Monday at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon.

Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Business Research Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder Leeds School of Business, told a sold-out crowd of 150 professionals at the Grand Vista Hotel that Grand Junction skipped the 2001 recession that dinged many metropolitan areas in the United States, and was sailing high before unemployment jumped and natural gas prices sank nearly four years ago.

It can be hard to recognize small signs of improvement when the Grand Valley is so far from its peak employment mark 41 months ago, Wobbekind said. But data he reported in the 48th annual Colorado Business Economic Outlook indicate baby steps have been made this year toward recovery.

“You’ve weathered the worst of it,” Wobbekind said. “You’re one of the fastest job-growing areas in the state now. I know it’s hard to see after you’ve been shell-shocked.”

Mesa County has added nearly 2,000 jobs year-over-year as of October, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

That equates to a 2.7 percent local employment increase in October 2012 compared with October 2011—the largest increase among Colorado’s seven major metropolitan areas. Pueblo and Colorado Springs lost jobs in that time period.

Wobbekind also trumpeted increases in home sales and prices since the start of 2012, increases in sales tax revenue and a prediction that natural gas prices will tick up slightly in 2013 as good signs for Grand Junction’s economy.

He wasn’t the bearer of good news alone, though.

Wobbekind said Grand Junction lost 12 percent of its employment during the recent recession, and the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the month could be detrimental to Colorado as a whole.

The cliff, a combination of President George W. Bush-era federal tax breaks expiring on Dec. 31 and mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts kicking in Jan. 1 could hurt Colorado in two ways, Wobbekind said: one, the state would lose federal funding it relies on in various industries and two, tax cuts could hit the state harder because Colorado ranks 13th in personal income per person.

“(Colorado) could have at least a mild recession or a more significant recession,” Wobbekind said.


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