By Caitlin Switzer
REGIONAL—(January 1, 2014) Talk of a resurgent economy means nothing if hands that want to work hard are idle–and a newly-released statewide economic report indicates that Western Colorado still faces challenges when it comes to putting those willing hands back to work.
The newly released Focus Colorado Economic and Revenue Forecast contains a wealth of information on industries impacting the state and the nation, but little positive news for the construction industry, the major industry that drives the state and the nation as a whole.
Nationwide, “Economic activity will grow at a more earnest pace in 2014 and 2015,” the report predicts. “Gains in construction, mostly in the residential sector, helped drive the economy amidst rising home prices.” Statewide, “The housing market is projected to remain strong throughout the forecast period.” Gains of 3.8 to 6.7 percent in residential value are expected for Front Range communities such as Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
However, here in the State’s “Western Region,” which encompasses Delta, Garfield, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Mesa, Moffat, Montrose, Ouray, Rio Blanco and San Miguel counties, the outlook remains troubled for the construction trades. The Western and Southwest Mountain regions are expected to see residential construction growth rates of just 1.2 and 4.4 percent, respectively, according to the Forecast.
Even energy exploration revenues in this region are on the decline, the forecast notes. “In the western region, natural gas properties are responsible for the largest share of assessed values…activity related to natural gas in the western region has declined.” 2013 was also not a strong year for another of the Region’s economic mainstays—agriculture. This sector was weakened by drought conditions and an early freeze, the Forecast states.
“The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) acknowledged 33 natural disasters in Western Region counties in 2013,” the Forecast notes, adding that unemployment in the region hovered at 7.2 percent compared to 6.8 percent for the State as a whole.
Scott Stryker of Montrose’s Ridgway Valley Enterprises, a 16-year veteran of the local construction industry, said that he has had to take on work outside of the region to survive.
“We are a little bit unique in that we do lots of Federal government work,” Stryker said. “We have projects in Oklahoma, and Southern Utah. It would be nice to be able to keep our crews closer to home and their families in 2014.”
Stryker expects to see a bump in commercial construction in the coming year, however.
“It won’t be like 2005 or 2006, but it is going up—we should see sustained, stable growth.” He said.
In Ridgway, Greg Doubt of Dallas creek Construction said that he hopes things begin to turn around soon. A 30-year veteran of the construction industry who has spent 18 years in Ridgway, Doubt also owns a local liquor store.
“Things are still slow here,” he said. “We’ve got jobs that are keeping us going, but there is no money in this business—most of the jobs we are bidding are at prices we saw ten years ago. This is the biggest industry in our country, and it impacts so many others—things like nails, tool suppliers—it all flows downhill.”
Doubt said that he would like to communities in the region support the construction trades with things like reduced permits and tap fees.
“If they want growth, they need to step up to the plate,” he said. “When I see our local talent going elsewhere just to make a living, it’s not good. We need business incentives; we need Ridgway to be more than a pass-through community where people are barely getting by.”
The town’s controversial streetscape effort would not help local business he believes, but other ideas, such as Ridgway realtor Kari Wage’s suggestion of a local geothermal bathhouse could have a positive impact if others rallied behind it, he said.
“An awful lot of people are moving out of the area who really don’t want to,” Doubt said. “We need some sort of incentive to bring in new business—think how many people drive through our town every day. And yet people tell me Ridgway is the most unfriendly place, because it is so dark at night. There’s not even a chance to get signage.
“Ridgway does have some geothermal springs,” he noted. “We have to do something. I am not seeing things turn around, and it bothers me.”