The economy, regionally and in La Plata County, faces some challenges, but it is showing signs of growth, according to experts at the Southwest Business Forum.
“I have somewhat tempered optimism,” said Robert “Tino” Sonora, director of the Office of Business and Economic Research at Fort Lewis College.
A labor shortage, low oil and natural gas prices and the slow growth of income are factors working against the regional economy.
However, the real estate market is doing well, the unemployment rate is low, local banks are lending and tourism activity is reaching pre-recession levels, he said.
The unemployment rate in 2015 was 3.5 percent, the lowest it has been since 2010.
While people are moving to La Plata County, many of them are retirees who are not filling available jobs.
“We’re having inflows of nonworking population,” Sonora said.
This could lead to an increase in income adjusted for inflation, but he expects it to be slow.
“We’re seeing a decline in purchasing power or incomes – pretty dramatic – over the last five years or so,” Sonora said.
Average incomes in the area trend lower than cities such as Denver because so many people work in low-paying service industries.
The outlook for Colorado’s economy also is fairly bright, but a labor shortage is a concern, said Richard Wobbekind, executive director of the Business Research Division of the University of Colorado.
As the state approaches full employment, higher wages could be inevitable.
Higher wages give workers more buying power but can make it tough for businesses to grow.
“People are not as optimistic as a year ago,” Wobbekind said.
While there is debate about whether higher wages are positive for the economy as a whole, it could make it possible for more people in La Plata County to afford housing.
The average rent in town is about $900 a month and home prices are rising.