Signs of life welcome in 2012 local economy

QUICKREAD

These stories didn’t make our Top 10 for 2012, but they ranked highest among the rest of the most noteworthy:

■ Republicans held onto Mesa County’s two House seats, but the 2012 presidential election proved to favor Democrats both in Colorado and nationally.

■ Presidential candidates and their vice presidential running mates visited the Western Slope early and often.

■ The 10 public trustees appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper were forced to resign in July after it was revealed many trustees were mismanaging their offices. Five were later reappointed, although Mesa County Public Trustee Paul Brown wasn’t among them. Grand Junction native Mike Moran was appointed to replace Brown.

■ Grand Junction’s public safety employees moved into a new $32 million complex that fills two square blocks of downtown.

■ It was a year of mixed news for the natural gas drilling business. Encana USA inked a deal with steel maker Nucor that could enable Encana to drill more than 4,000 wells in western Colorado over the next 20 years. Williams broke ground on a $150 million expansion to its Parachute-area natural-gas plant. Dallas-based Summit Midstream completed a $207 million acquisition of local natural gas pipelines and processing infrastructure. But the drilling slowdown took its toll, too. Bill Barrett Corp. announced it would sell roughly a quarter interest in its natural gas holdings south of Silt.

Other top stories of 2012 in the daily sentinel



In terms of economic issues, you can file 2012 away under the “any growth is good growth” category.

The signs might have been unspectacular, but they were signs — and certainly welcome after two or three years of recession-type doldrums that tested the finances of Mesa County residents like any years in recent memory.

Sales tax collections are a good indicator of the positive trend, and both Mesa County and the city of Grand Junction are poised to take in more this year than last. Through November, county sales tax collections were more than in any of the last three years, and Grand Junction took in nearly two percent more in sales and use tax revenues this year over last.

Signs also are seemingly brightening in the local real estate market. More single-family homes in Mesa County were sold in the third quarter of 2012 than in any since September 2008. Area residential sales are up year-over-year in 21 of the last 22 months, and local median home prices reached their highest point since the end of 2010.

For the jobless, times were still tough in 2012, but Mesa County’s unemployment rate slowly descended from the nearly double-digit percentages of 2011 to settle in just above 8 percent for the region by the end of the year. As of October, Mesa County had added nearly 2,000 jobs year-over-year, a 2.7 percent local employment increase that led the state over that time.

Another growth area was the continued expansion of Colorado Mesa University, whose student numbers swelled with a rate of growth of 8.5 percent in 2012, with an enrollment of 10,000 students not far off on the horizon.

Local economist Richard Wobbekind summed up the economic year in Mesa County to a local group earlier this month.

“I know it’s hard to see after you’ve been shell-shocked,” he said. “You’ve weathered the worst of it.”

Implicit in his comments was a prediction of another year of improvement — economically speaking — ahead in 2013.

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