11 News Special Report: A Light at the End of the Tunnel

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

"Doom and Gloom" has dominated headlines for much of the last year as our country feels the effects of a devastating economic recession. But now, local experts say they're seeing signs that things are finally starting to turn around.

Economic experts say since December of 2007, the U.S. economy has been on the decline. But after more than a year of reports on record unemployment rates, sharp market drops, and faltering sales figures, they and many others are now saying the worst appears to be behind us.

"Things maybe aren't as bad as we once thought and in fact, we're continuing to grow," said Bradley Sullivan, owner of the Colorado Flight Center.

"We don't see any slowdown right now," said Louie Nelson, sales manager for Sanitary Supply Inc.

One area that says it's seeing real change is the housing sector.

"Since January and February we've seen a definite change for the better," said Bonnie Connors of Bonnie Connors Realty.

"We have a natural increase during the springtime, but we're seeing even more," said Rick Hamm, Vice President of Unifirst Mortgage. "Prices of homes have stabilized and we're seeing a lot more on the purchase side."

Local real estate agents and mortgage lenders say there are several factors behind the pickup: interest rates are at record lows, first time homebuyers are now eligible for an $8,000 tax credit, and lower housing prices and a large supply of homes are driving a buyer's market.

"There's a little more confidence for people to actually go and purchase property at this point in time," said Hamm.

Hamm says just a few months ago, home purchases only made up about 30 percent of total business. But now, they're making up 50 percent.

"And our volume has stayed steady if not increasing," said Hamm. "So good times for mortgage and good times for the real estate business."

And apparently better times for the financial sector as well.

"There are some positive indications, glimmers of hope that the recession is maybe easing," said Larry Jones, Branch Manager of Financial West Group.

Jones say the stock markets, while still shaky, will not go back to the low levels they were at earlier this year.

"I think the market hit a low at the end of February, the DOW was at sixty-seven hundred. Now, we're at about eighty-three hundred," said Jones. "That's close to a thirty percent improvement in terms of market performance."

He says consumers are showing a little more confidence in the market than they were just a few months ago. Coupled with government TARP investments into the financial system, and several corporations reporting better than expected earnings in the first quarter, he says things are looking up.

"Overall, I think the pattern is recovery and improvement," said Jones.

Local businesses say that's a pattern they've noticed too as the months go by.

"Overall, we're seeing some really good perks, some good commercial work coming on board," said Duke Wortmann of United Van Lines. "We're seeing some perks in the local economy."

"We do see a large increase in remodeling and in business going on right now," said Jim Maggio of Abbey Carpet & Floor.

According to New York based The Conference Board, consumer confidence jumped 12 percent in April. Although the latest Commerce Department numbers showed a .4 percent drop in retail sales from March, that's not as bad as the 1.3 percent drop from February.

"People are understanding the best way to get things rolling is to get out there and spend money within the local economy," said Sullivan.

"I'm really enthusiastic about the economy and people are out there spending money," said Fred Shurtleff of Aire Serv Heating & AC. "When they're spending thirty-five hundred dollars on a piece of equipment without hesitating, I don't feel there's a problem out there."

So what do all these things mean in terms of jobs? Dr. Morgan Bridge, head of the Business Department at Mesa State College, says unemployment numbers are typically the last things to show improvement, but for the time being they are showing signs of stabilizing.

"Businesses aren't going to start hiring people again until consumers are out there spending dollars in those businesses," said Dr. Bridge. "So what we're really looking for is those retail sales to pickup, which is a good indication that inventories will start falling and businesses will hire more people to produce output."

She adds with the positive indicators we're seeing now, it's just a matter of time before jobs follow suit.

"They're starting to see some positive signs, but they're waiting to make sure that it's really a trend and not just a little blip," said Dr. Bridge. "So things are getting better I think. It's just going to take a little while."

Across the board, experts agree it will take months or possibly years before the economy makes a full recovery -- but they say we're starting to move in the right direction.

"I think housing has always been one of the startup points for the economy," said Hamm.

"Stock markets typically lead the way out of recession by maybe six months," said Jones. "We're getting close to that period of time when if the recession is ending by the end of the year or the first part of next year, maybe this is a good time and good indicator that we are starting to see the end."

"There's a tremendous amount of growth still going on in Mesa County and the Western Slope," said Nelson.

"Some of the indicators are starting to move up which is always good news," said Dr. Bridge. "It's what everyone has been waiting for."

Another sign of the improving times, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership says twenty-five companies have expressed interest in coming to the Grand Valley. Officials say 13 of those have become "qualified prospects" and approximately half of those prospects are within the manufacturing industry.

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