An economic update provided by the business department of Colorado Mesa University proved of great interest to community leaders and business professionals from throughout Delta County. They filled the conference room at Grand Mesa Oncology Center on Thursday, June 6.
Greg Pope, a member of Uncompahgre Development, said the audience was twice as large as anticipated. Uncompahgre Development led the effort to secure the economic update with financial support from Delta County, Region 10 and Colorado Mesa University.
Before introducing the presenter, Dr. Nathan Perry, Pope shared the history of Uncompahgre Development and the role it has played in the county's economic prosperity.
Dr. Perry is an associate professor of economics at Colorado Mesa University who has provided quarterly economic analyses for Mesa and Montrose counties. The members of Uncompahgre Development felt the same type of data would prove useful in answering the question, "Are we moving the needle in the direction we want to?" This question can only be answered over time. Dr. Perry has done just three quarterly updates for Delta County, which can be found on the Colorado Mesa University website. Just type the words "economic development" into the search window.
In summary, Dr. Perry noted:
• Delta County's economy is holding steady at a 4.77 percent unemployment rate.
• The employment and labor force growth of the last two years stalled in the second quarter of 2019, however it has not reversed. Health care and construction have shown the strongest growth in total wages over the past three years. Dr. Perry called the growth in health care employment "solid"; construction is less so because it is dependent on business cycles.
• Coal production/employment has stabilized since 2016. Total production from the West Elk Mine is down 15.64% from the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019. However, average monthly employment for the same time period increased from 254 to 298.
• Farm employment has been stable for the past three years.
• Demographers predict steady growth in the county's population, even though the death rate is higher than the birth rate. Both Delta and Montrose counties will rely on migration to keep the population growing. By 2050, Delta's population is estimated at 40,236. More robust growth is anticipated for Montrose, based on the airport and its proximity to Telluride. Dr. Perry said he thinks Delta County might end up growing slightly faster than anticipated because of its proximity to outdoor recreation, as well as Montrose and Grand Junction.
• Real estate prices continue to climb, with median sales prices increasing from $186,400 to $235,483 since the same quarter last year (a 26% increase). The real estate market continues to be strong, but some indicators are softening. Days on market have increased from 110 to 140, which could indicate a move toward a buyers market. Generally, Dr. Perry said, under four months is considered a sellers' market and over six months a buyers' market.
• City and county sales tax collections are up from last quarter and from last year. Dr. Perry believes this is a result of the strong national and local economy, strong consumer confidence and a result of growing employment in the county and region.
Dr. Perry concluded with an overview of national economic indicators. The national economy continues to move forward, with unemployment at April at 3.6%. Unemployment has not been this low since the late 1960s.