Steamboat economist weighs recession | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat economist weighs recession

Ford: Routt County likely fared better than most during the worst of times

Mike Lawrence

— A diverse economy allowed Routt County to weather the worst of the recession better than most areas, a local economist said Tuesday, adding that financial forecasts appear to be brightening.

Scott Ford, director of the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative, has been compiling data from local, state and federal sources in recent weeks to raise economic awareness across the county. What he's found, he said Tuesday, is that "a certain degree of resilience exists in this economy" because of its variety of industries and income sources. As an example, Ford cited the construction industry, which has taken a hit in Routt County and across Colorado. But other economic sectors performed much better in Routt County than other areas of the state, Ford said, having a stabilizing affect on local average incomes.

Those other sectors include health care; scientific and technical services; and nonlabor income such as dividends, rents, transfer payments — including government programs such as Social Secur­ity and Medicaid, Ford said — along with private pensions, interest and royalties. Nonlabor income accounted for 33 percent of the county's total personal income in 2008, according to figures from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of La­­bor Statistics.

The remaining 66.7 percent of in­­come, Ford said, is labor-related and split into incomes from private entities and public entities such as the Steamboat Springs School District. Of the private earnings, Ford said, construction trades generated about 26 percent of personal income in 2008, followed by retail trades at 10.5 percent, health care and social assistance at 8.8 percent and accommodation and food services at 7.6 percent.

That relative balance indicates a diverse economy and a relatively stable source of incomes countywide, he said.

"Routt County's aggregate personal income for 2009 will likely be at least flat or more likely show a modest increase of 1 to 1.5 percent (over 2008)," Ford wrote in an e-mail. "If we assume that 2009 represented the bottom or close to the bottom of the current recession, the takeaway from this information is that at the county level we will have weathered the challenges this recession has delivered better than the rest of the state and far better than many places in the nation."

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That's in contrast to places such as Rio Blanco County, which is heavily reliant on energy industries and lost 21 percent of its jobs and 10 percent of its average weekly wages from 2008 to 2009, according to federal labor statistics.

Personal in­­come levels de­­creased about 2.1 percent across Col­­orado in 2009 com­­pared to 2008, according to BEA figures released last week. The BEA's county-specific figures for 2009 incomes are not yet available.

Ford acknowledged the struggles of many families and workers in Routt County and said it's not his intent to minimize the recession's impacts.

"Economies are made up of people. There are happy stories and tragic stories behind every number," Ford said.

Brian Bradbury, labor and employment specialist at the Steamboat Springs office of the Colorado Workforce Center, said Tuesday that the local labor market has not noticeably improved during the past year and remains very sluggish.

"The number of jobs is very low, and the number of job seekers is very high," Bradbury said. "We really don't see much of a change right now."

There's also no change in the number of new unemployment claims, which remains steady at his Sundance at Fish Creek office, Bradbury said.

'Not as dark'

Ford said according to figures from Gallup International Association, Yampa Valley consumers spent an average of $98 per day as of Aug. 15, 2008. That number dipped to $60 per day as of April 28, 2009, but increased slightly to $67 per day as of April 20 this year.

That's one of several indicators that leads Ford to think brighter days are ahead.

"All things being equal … 2009 will probably go down as the darkest of the days," Ford said. "That doesn't mean it's sunshiny (now), but it's not as dark."

He is projecting that in terms of retail sales and the state of the local economy, "2010 will look a lot like 2006."

It could be five to seven years before construction levels return to the booming levels of 2007 and 2008, he said.

Economic projections and climate will be among many topics on the table next week at Economic Summit 2010, titled "A New Decade: Emerging from Recession in a Changed Environment." The event is May 19 and 20 at The Steamboat Grand.

Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Asso­ciation, said Tuesday that about 170 people had registered for the summit, which she said can accommodate "upwards of 250."

"I think the level of speakers is going to be inspiring and fun and interesting and educational," she said. "I think it's going to be a really good summit."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

If you go

What: Economic Summit 2010, “A New Decade: Emerging from Recession in a Changed Environment”

When: May 19 and 20

Where: The Steamboat Grand

Contact: Visit the Economic Summit 2010 site for a schedule, information on speakers and registration information

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