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12/18/2003

Slight job growth projected for 2004

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Colorado’s unemployment rate is expected to dip in 2004, halting two straight years of job loss, according to experts.

But while the consensus is that the economic outlook is improving, there is some question as to how much.

“We’re at a turning point,” said Nancy McCallin of the governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting.

“I would point out that we thought we were at a turning point last year, although we may have a little bit better reason to (think so) this year,” countered Wilson Kendall of the Center for Business and Economic Forecasting.

The two were part of the 39th Annual Business Economic Outlook forum this week at the Denver Marriott, sponsored by the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

There are definite signs nationally of an improving economy, and that is trickling down to this state.

“Strong (gross domestic product) growth in the second half of 2003 will provide fuel for further growth growth heading into 2004,” said Richard Wobbekind, director of the Business Research Division for the Leeds school. “With the economy continuing to grow in 2003, the consumer continues to be the savior.”

Wobbekind said that consumer confidence, a major economic driver, has been higher in the Rocky Mountain Region than it has been nationally for the past 10 years, and that has helped Colorado’s economy avoid being dragged even further in the doldrums.

Wobbekind is calling for retail growth of 1 percent next year, although employment growth in the sector is predicted at only 1.3 percent.

During the past few years, one area where Colorado has been particularly hard hit — especially the Longmont-Boulder area — is in manufacturing. The 6,000 manufacturing firms across the state account for 7 percent of the state’s total job base.

Since 1998, approximately 40,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Colorado — 11,000 of them this year.

Patty Silverstein of Development Research Partners said that while the bleeding in manufacturing hasn’t stopped, the coming year should bring improvement.

“Although there will be overall improvement in employment in the manufacturing sector in 2004, it will still involve the loss of about 1,100 jobs,” Silverstein said.

One statistic of note came from an annual survey her company conducts of manufacturing companies. Asked whether they were concerned about the availability of qualified workers, only 23 percent of companies in 2001 said they were concerned. This year, that same question had 71 percent of the companies answering in the affirmative.

Construction — expected to drop 4,700 jobs in the coming year due to excessive inventory — is the other “supersector” in which jobs are projected to decline in 2004. Natural resources and mining is the only goods-producing supersector expected to add jobs in 2004, and only about 800 of those.

All of the other supersectors — trade, transportation and utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; “other services”; and government — are expected to see job increases.

Colorado’s ranking in terms of per capita income has been shifting over the past couple of years, and that trend is expected to continue in the coming year.

While per capita income in the state remains higher than the national average — $33,585 in 2003, compared with $31,641 nationally — it is growing at a slower rate than the national average — 2.5 percent next year, compared with 3.2 percent growth nationally.

It will be the third straight year the state’s per capita income has grown slower than the national average, Wobbekind said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.