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Local economic statistics looking a bit brighter

Now that the election is over - but not politics - maybe it’s time to reflect on the health of the local economy.

And the news is looking positive.

Beginning with labor markets, average unemployment in La Plata has fallen more than one-half percentage point to 6.3 percent from a year ago. In addition, local unemployment rates are almost 2 percent lower than the state and national average.

In addition, the 12-month moving average for the La Plata County labor force was 31,692, or about 4.9 percent higher than the same time last year. Labor-force growth was positive in January 2011 for the first time since October 2008. However, the employment-population ratio in La Plata County has yet to return to pre-Great Recession levels.

Of course, unemployment rates don’t tell the whole story. Much of our local jobs are in the service sector, and those jobs are generally lower-paying. Despite our reliance on the service sector, our average per-capita income has improved during the last few years, both absolutely and relative to Colorado’s per-capita personal income.

Personal per capita income in 2011 (most recent statistic available) was $40,673 in La Plata County, a decline of 0.62 percent from 2010, but it remains the highest in the Region 9 counties.

Additionally, while the state’s wages have grown an average of 2.6 percent from the first quarter 2001 to the first quarter of 2012, La Plata County total wages have grown an average of 4.4 percent during the same period, and average weekly wages have risen 3.5 percent compared to the state average of 2.5 percent.

Local inflation remains moderate through the second quarter of 2012, aided by moderate increases in the rental market. Low interest rates and falling housing prices have led to negative monthly mortgage payment growth, helping keep inflation rates low.

Tourism continues to play a significant, though declining, role in La Plata County: Leisure and hospitality accounts for about 9 percent of total income.

The OBER Tourism Index shows overall long-term tourism trends continue to rise, up 13 percent from the beginning of the recession in December 2007.

And real estate is continuing to show some improvement. The 2012 median inflation-adjusted home price in La Plata County combined is up about 19 percent from last year, though this is about 13 percent lower than the peak in 2008.

Total 2012 second-quarter home sales are up almost 21 percent compared with the past year, a sign that the housing market is starting to clear as owners accept lower prices. Currently, about 0.11 percent of homes are in foreclosure, compared to a Colorado state average of 0.17 percent and a national average of 0.14 percent.

The Office Business and Economic Research now tracks local bank deposits at five local and regional banks. Between 2009 and 2011 bank assets experienced negative growth, but they grew in the first quarter of 2012. And while total deposits declined in 2010, they have grown during the last two years.

sonora_t@fortlewis.edu. Robert “Tino” Sonora is associate professor of economics at Fort Lewis College and the director of the Office of Business and Economic Research at Fort Lewis College.

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