Heading into 2012, several people who keep their fingers on the pulse of the local economy say it is showing subtle signs of recovery.
Federal, state and local governments, hospitals and clinics, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, and utilities such as Empire Electric have contributed to a rise in area employment rates, according to Joe Keck, director of the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center.
The region was a big winner after Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, Keck said.
“We estimate over $80 million since 2009” in AARA funds, he said, adding that the figure was a “rough ballpark.”
Mesa Verde National Park garnered $13 million for a new museum and visitor center set to open in November 2012, said the park's spokesperson, Sue Johnson-Erner. The park will also resurface its highways for $5.5 million during the next fiscal year.
“It looks like heavy industrial construction is picking back up,” Keck said. “Those kinds of companies that do roads and municipal water systems seem to be doing fairly well.”
A report focusing on Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah said the region showed 0.3 percent growth in employment and a housing market that seems to have hit bottom, according to the Associated Press.
“If you look at the national unemployment level, we are doing better. And our area, the southwest corner of Colorado, is doing better than many other parts of the state and the nation,” said Chloe Wiebe, regional manager for the Colorado Workforce Center.
Unemployment in Montezuma County was estimated at 7.8 percent, according to Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment. The local number is up from September's 7.3 percent, but the rise is typical for this time of year, according to Jana Carter and Joyce Scharnhorst, employment specialists at the local Colorado Workforce Center. Mesa Verde, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and tourism-based businesses lay off staff in the fourth quarter of the year.
Dolores County's unemployment remained the highest in the state at 12.1 percent in November 2011, but it has improved considerably improved from the November 2010 figure of 16.1 percent.
The national unemployment rate in November was 8.6 percent, the lowest it's been in two and a half years, according to the Department of Labor, and Colorado's was estimated at 8.0 percent.
Residential construction remains slow, as the housing market works its way through a glut of foreclosed properties. Keck said some analysts do not forecast a housing recovery until 2014.
Retail sales tax trends in Cortez were up between one and two percent since last year, Keck said.
“It's sort of keeping up with inflation, but it's much better than being negative,” he said. “So I see a lot of people being a little bit optimistic but very cautious.”
“I think everybody still is a little spooked about making any major capital investments because of the economy.”
For more about Region 9 economics, visit scan.org or call 247-9621.
For more about employment in Cortez, visit connectingcolorado.com or call the Colorado Workforce Center at 565-3759.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Nathalie Winch at [email protected]