Boulder’s economic horizon will keep its rosy glow, though economists anticipate the pace will slow in the face of growing local and national challenges.
Nationally recognized experts presented a mixed economic message to a record-setting crowd of civic, political and business leaders gathered for the 12th annual Boulder Economic Forecast. Organized by the Boulder Chamber and Boulder Economic Council, the event was held January 17 at the Embassy Suites Hotel. RE/MAX of Boulder is among the event’s sponsors.
The goal is to arm community leaders with up-to-date statistics and trends that inform decisions and support local economic vitality, according to John Tayer, CEO and President of the Boulder Chamber.
And community leaders will want to take heed.
Keynote speaker Dr. Richard Wobbekind, Executive Director CU-Boulder Leeds Business Research Division, shared a vision of continued economic growth but more moderate than previous years.
“Overall the picture is pretty positive in the sense that consumption is growing, investment is growing, government spending has been growing, so you have those pieces pushing the economy forward. That continues to fuel growth and employment,” says Wobbekind.
But uphill pressures are mounting.
With national GDP growth slowing to a projected 2.4-2.5 percent for 2019, the national economy is moving to a moderate trend. Wobbekind says the thing on everyone’s mind – “the elephant in the room”—is whether recent stock market volatility and other factors will lead to a significant downturn in the economy.
“Will the Recovery Ever End?” is his presentation title. But Wobbekind says it’s hard to say whether or not the economy will turn towards recession.
National outlook a mixed bag
Nationally, Wobbekind’s data showed a story of good news, bad news.
On the good news side, Wobbekind says nationally incomes are rising due to strong employment accompanied by strong wages. With rising incomes, consumption rates are growing and debt burden as a percentage of income is relatively low. National FHFA home price growth is showing strong price appreciation.
Then there are the tempered aspects of the national economy. He says consumer confidence is still quite high, historically speaking, but it has come down slightly. Businesses are in good shape, but there is uncertainty about interest rates, trade agreements, sales and profit growth and hiring. Nationally, business confidence is falling, but still above neutral.
Wobbekind also presents some straight-up challenges. Corporate and private tax cuts are effectively ending, with the tax cut stimulus leaving a national deficit of over $1 trillion, accumulated during a prolonged period of economic expansion. Workers are in short supply with low unemployment rates and 6.7 million jobs unfilled nationwide. Student loan debt is high and interest rates may see modest increases.
Colorado’s economy sustaining strength, but pressure is rising
Colorado’s economic record has been strong, outperforming the nation in recent years. For example, the state ranked third in the country for pace of GDP growth in 2017. Wobbekind suggests the trend may keep going, though more slowly.
For one, strong employment growth is expected to continue – Colorado has been in the top five states for job creation since 2008. But in 2018, the employment growth was down slightly to two percent. Even so, Colorado has the third highest labor participation in the country.
But worker’s wage growth is not as strong as would be expected given the tight labor market. Wobbekind notes lackluster increase in wages is troubling in the face of the high cost of housing and inflation.
While Colorado’s population keeps growing, the rate is slowing. Net migration will continue to decline as it did last year.
Home price appreciation—notably among the fastest growing in the U.S for the past 10 years—fell from the top three slots but remains in the top 10. Residential building permit activity is still strong.
While businesses are still confident in state and local economies, confidence is dropping when it comes to the national economy.
Boulder County carries on
Boulder County is expected to mostly hold steady. Though the area’s strong rate of growth is expected to decrease next year, the decline will be slight. Key statistics Wobbekind listed are:
Boulder’s GDP growth is 4 percent
Much needed multifamily housing stock is increasing
City of Boulder’s median single family home prices have stabilized somewhat
City of Boulder has a significant jump in office vacancies and more office space is coming online
Boulder County wage growth is 4.7 percent
Broomfield and Denver have higher wages than Boulder
City of Boulder’s sales and use tax dipped last year but is climbing back up
Wobbekind points to headwinds facing Colorado, saying the state should watch out for:
Drought and weather
Real wage increases
PERA funded only at 46 percent
Labor shortage one of state’s biggest challenges
Skillful Colorado’s Executive Director, Shannon Block, dove into to strategies for overcoming the shortage of skilled workers. Employers are struggling to find workers and the cause of the talent shortage is a skills gap. Fueling the problem, says Block, are traditional employment practices narrowly focused on candidates with 4-year college degrees. That focus is making job-landing difficult for the 70 percent of Americans who don’t have a 4-year degree.
Skillful Colorado’s focus is to shift that trend toward hiring practices that value skills-based talent. The goal is to help Coloradans get jobs in a rapidly changing economy, particularly the 60 percent In Colorado with no college degree.
For more information, see Boulder Economic Forecast slide presentations at:
Dr. Rich Wobbekind’s 2019 Boulder Economic Forecast: https://ecs.page.link/YoZU
Shannon Block, Skillful Colorado, Addressing the Skills Gap: https://ecs.page.link/kLGs
Originally posted by Tom Kalinski Founder RE/MAX of Boulder on Thursday, February 7th, 2019 at 1:40pm.
Good times in Boulder County and in Colorado will continue said local economic experts at the recent Boulder Economic Forecast. But they caution that 2018 may not reach the heights of 2017, and the difficulties could impact us well beyond next year.
Organized by the Boulder Chamber and the Boulder Economic Council, the 11th annual Boulder Economic Forecast was held on January 17 at the new Embassy Suites Hotel, and RE/MAX of Boulder was among the event’s sponsors.
“By almost every economic indicator we measure, 2017 was an historic year,” says Executive Director of the Boulder Economic Council Clif Harald in his opening remarks.
Statistics show a superlative year. Colorado ranked third in the country for the pace of GDP growth, while unemployment dropped to 2.5 percent, the second-lowest rate nationally. The state’s labor force soared with the fastest growth rate in the U.S., according to speaker Rich Wobbekind, Executive Director, Business Research Division, Leeds School of Business, CU-Boulder.
But, Harald noted that 2017 presented challenges, too. And, these challenges could escalate in the coming years.
He pointed to constraints for Boulder’s economy, including a shortage of labor and resources and high housing costs that cause long commutes for many Boulder County workers.
In his keynote address, Wobbekind called the labor shortage the area’s “biggest short-term challenge.”
While job growth in Boulder County continued in 2017, the pace slowed from the peak of 2014-15.
“Almost every industry sector reported lack of available labor or properly trained labor. This doesn’t go away,” Wobbekind says.
And chief among the factors impacting Boulder County: age.
Colorado State Demographer Elizabeth Garner says residents 65-and-older will represent 20 percent of residents by 2030. The 65+ group will be 77 percent larger than it was in 2015.
“We are aging fast,” says Garner, noting that the age wave will overtake the entire state.
Garner explains that demographics – and the age wave beginning to sweep the state – are an economic issue. As people retire, aging results in a labor shortage. When people choose to age in place, housing stock for people moving in or moving up is negatively impacted. Aging also impacts healthcare and public financing issues.
At the same time, those migrating here are typically ages 20-27 and never married. Total household income is below $50,000 for 80 percent; 65 percent earn less than $24,000. People move to Colorado for the jobs. But, Garner cautions, the biggest increase in jobs are those that are low- to medium- wage, while the cost of living is relatively high.
The highest income and spending group – 45- to 65- year-olds – is the smallest demographic in the state and in Boulder County. It also has the slowest growth rate and the numbers are declining.
In addition, diversity will increase as the Hispanic population is projected to grow from the current 20 percent to 30 percent by 2040.
Among the challenges and issues facing Boulder County and the state, Garner listed:
– Aging with its far reaching impact across the economy, housing, labor supply and healthcare. As the workforce ages and retires, Colorado could experience a natural decline;
-Disparate growth across the state with Colorado’s economy flourishing along the Front Range and 1-25 corridor, but far fewer gains in the rest of the state and rural areas;
-Attracting the best and brightest to Colorado;
-Population growing at slower rate, with a total population growth from 2015-2050 reaching 2.5 million along Front Range and 1.5 million in Denver;
Garner says Colorado’s population has increased by 578,000 since 2010, making it the eighth highest state in the U.S. for total growth.
Boulder County’s growth rate is the second lowest statewide. The population in-migration peaked in the 1990s. Garner notes that students move to Boulder for college, leave after graduation, then return, and then leave again. One key reason: As a young adult it’s hard to live, buy, and rent in Boulder.
Now, fewer young families live in Boulder, and the tide has shifted toward a higher number of deaths than births.
But the dynamics of Boulder County’s economy are strong, outperforming state and national economies in job growth and educational attainment.
Boulder County, though, has well-supported economic vitality, fueled by high concentrations of companies and employment in aerospace, biotechnology, cleantech, and information, according to Wobbekind.
The area’s high quality of life and business, and cultural and outdoor attractions appeal to a highly educated workforce and visionary entrepreneurs.
Incomes are above average. The median household income for Boulder County residents was $74,615 in 2016 compared to $65,685 for Colorado residents, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But Garner cautions that Colorado’s housing affordability is a big concern. The disparity between median home value and median income is the second-highest in the U.S., which fuels the labor shortage and decreases the ability for young families to live here.
For more information, see Boulder Economic Forecast presentations at:
See Leeds School of Business, CU-Boulder’s Economic report at: https://www.colorado.edu/business/sites/default/files/attached-files/2018_colorado_business_economic_outlook.pdf