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8/29/2004

Education, services lead state’s recovery

By John Fryar
The Daily Times-Call

DENVER — Colorado’s economic recovery “continues to gain momentum,” according to an August report from one of the Legislature’s staff economists.

“Business confidence is getting stronger, given recent increases in sales revenue and profits,” according to a report by economist Todd Herreid.

“The improving business climate is producing modest job gains in the state, based on monthly employment reports. State personal income also rebounded in the first quarter of 2004, after declining in the fourth quarter of 2003,” Herreid wrote.

Those indicators “suggest the near-term outlook for the state’s economy is positive,” according to Herreid.

The report was part of the Legislature’s staff economists’ August edition of their monthly “Colorado Economic Chronicle” newsletter.

Herreid wrote that Colorado’s employment situation continues to improve, with almost 21,000 jobs created from July 2003 through June 2004 — a 1 percent increase from the previous year.

The fastest-growing segments of the labor market during the past year were professional and business services, education and health services, and government.

“The one weak sector of the economy was the construction industry, which lost 4,400 jobs since June 2003,” Herreid wrote. “Declines in residential development as well as an oversupply of commercial office space contributed to job losses in this sector.”

Colorado’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July increased by two-tenths of a percentage point from June, going from 4.9 percent to 5.1 percent, according to a separate state report issued last Friday.

“The jobless rate can exhibit monthly variability, but the labor market picture remains stable,” said Jeff Wells, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate in July 2003 was 6.2 percent. Colorado’s 5.1 percent July 2004 unemployment rate was lower than the 5.5 percent national jobless rate for the month.

In the Boulder-Longmont Metropolitan Statistical Area, the unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points, from 4.8 percent in June to 4.6 percent in July. Those figures were not adjusted for seasonal factors.

The Boulder-Longmont area had a 6.1 percent jobless rate in July 2003.

“The employment outlook is expected to improve further as the economic recovery gains strength,” Herreid said.

Among the highlights of Herreid’s report on the Colorado economy:

•Coloradans’ personal income increased at an average annual rate of 1.1 percent during the first quarter of 2004, following a 0.4 percent decline in the fourth quarter of 2003.

•The consumer price index for urban consumers in the Denver-Boulder-Greeley area decreased 0.7 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the first half of 2003.

Price increases for gasoline and natural gas, which increased 13 percent and 27 percent, respectively, were offset by falling prices for housing, services and motor vehicles.

•Herreid wrote that a Colorado Business Leaders Confidence Index compiled by the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and Compass Bank showed that business leaders “remain upbeat regarding the state’s economic prospects.”

•Retail trade sales for January through May 2004 were up 4.2 percent compared with the first five months of 2003, following two years of declining retail trade activity.

On an industry-category basis, the fastest growth rates were recorded for electronics and appliance stores, up 15.9 percent; health and personal-care stores, up 13.9 percent; and building materials stores, up 11.2 percent.

•Both residential and nonresidential construction activity increased substantially in the first six months of this year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and F.W. Dodge Inc.

The number of single-family residential housing projects was up 24 percent through June 2004 compared with the first six months of 2003, with the construction of multi-family dwelling units up by 35 percent.

The value of nonresidential construction statewide was up by 18 percent through June 2004 compared with the first half of 2003.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.