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Colorados Strong Economic Run Expected To Power On In 2015
Denver Post 12/9/14
By: Howard Pankratz and Aldo Svaldi
With 2014 marking Colorado's highest employment growth this century, the state's economy will continue to expand in 2015, adding a variety of jobs in almost every business sector, according to economist Richard Wobbekind of the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business.
"Not only is the state's economy solidly in positive territory, but it is ranking in the top five nationally for population growth, employment growth, wage and salary growth and personal income growth," Wobbekind said at the 50th annual Colorado Business Economic Outlook.
"This is a very strong run," Wobbekind told more than 600 people at a downtown Denver hotel.
However, Wobbekind brought gasps from those in attendance when he reported that oil prices had dipped to $63 a barrel just moments before. Benchmark crude oil finished down $2.79 at $63.05 per barrel Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Wobbekind, who directs the business research division at Leeds, said that while Colorado is firmly positioned as a top-10 energy producing state, lower prices for an extended period could drag the economy down.
"The oil price decline is both a positive and a negative for the economy," Wobbekind said. "Lower prices act as an economic stimulus for consumers. But the lower prices also stress the economic viability of drilling and extraction projects."
Activity could slow
He said that crude oil production began to boom in 2011 and oil production is projected to increase to 81 million barrels in Colorado in 2015. But he warned that if prices drop — and stay there — production could slip below forecast.
"It would certainly slow activity," Wobbekind said.
He said the impact of soft prices would likely first be felt in the Bakken Formation in Montana and North Dakota, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and then ripple through the Niobrara Formation in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
Areas that need to be watched closely in 2015 — because they may have a negative pull on Colorado's economy — include how well the U.S. Federal Reserve pulls off reduction of its bond buying; what happens to the median family income; political gridlock in Washington; the cost of housing; the price of oil; and the availability of labor.
Complaints about labor shortages will become more common next year, he said. Many sectors are already "talking about the lack of available labor, even leisure and hospitality."
Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough, who narrated the economic outlook with Wobbekind, said the shortage of qualified — and available — workers and competition from other industries and regions is expected to drive up labor costs by 7 percent or more next year.
"We're seeing (construction) workers go to higher paying jobs in other states, like Texas and North Dakota and to other industries, like oil and gas," she said. "While an aging workforce may be able to extend a career at a desk job, the physical demands of this industry make it harder to extend into old age."
The labor shortage, Wobbekind said, will make it critical for "people (who are not working) to come off the sidelines."
Still, Wobbekind said, Colorado's economic prospects are bright compared to most other states.
He expects 61,300 jobs to be added in 2015 in Colorado, slightly less than the 72,900 jobs added in 2014. In-migration continues to boost the population, and unemployment is falling.
"With a skilled workforce, a high-tech, diversified economy, relatively low cost of doing business, global economic access and exceptional quality of life, Colorado is poised for both short- and long-term economic growth," Wobbekind said.
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