Looking Out Over Colorado's Economic Landscape

November 25 2008, 7:45 AM

The national news has been dominated for weeks by the economy. How has it trickled down to Colorado? These seemingly unrelated stories provide a pretty clear picture: KJCT8 (Grand Junction, Montrose) reports that a year ago, Colorado's unemployment rate was 3.9 percent. The station notes that the latest statistics from the Colorado Department of Labor show it has risen to 5.7 percent, the highest level in four years. Among the companies laying off workers, according to the Rocky Mountain News, are ProLogis, MDC Holdings, Janus Capital, Western Union, and Sun Microsystems. The Rocky Mountain News reports that last Saturday, 40,000 people showed up for a food giveaway at a farm near Platteville. The event had been scheduled for two days, but they ran out of food on Saturday and had to cancel the Sunday event. At a similar event in Lakewood, more than 5,000 showed up for free food, the largest number for an event of its kind in 40 years. The Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association, the state's largest pension fund, which covers most public employees, has announced that cuts in retiree benefits are on the horizon. The Denver Post reports:

Total PERA assets are pegged at $29 billion, down from $41 billion on Jan. 1, and officials acknowledge that the current figure is "soft" -- it doesn't account for steep drops in the value of real estate and private-equity investments.

Xcel Energy predicted in September that heating bills would rise by as much as 12 percent this winter. The drop in natural gas prices has reduced that estimate to 5 percent. Nonetheless, The Denver Post reports:

More Coloradans are struggling to pay utility bills. Xcel Energy spokesman Joe Fuentes told the Longmont Times-Call the utility disconnected 5,744 residential customers in October, up 51 percent from the 3,807 shutoffs it recorded in October 2007. Shutoffs generally occur when a customer is 90 days late paying a bill.

Denver 7News reports eight churches in Fort Collins have been robbed since September. The two items taken: groceries and money.

"Obviously, they are individuals that are desperate and need help and we pray that they will come forward and turn themselves in and take the right path," said Pastor Brian Bestian of St. Johns Lutheran Church.

Even the wealthy are feeling the effects of the downturn (if not the pinch in their daily lives). The Aspen Daily News reports Aspen's real estate sales have dropped a whopping 47 percent, probably signaling the end of the decade-long bull market in the resort town. As some Colorado ski resorts come up with larger consumer incentives to drive business, particularly ones for kids, others are planning layoffs. Some retailers are pinning their hopes on Black Friday, while others started their Black Friday discounts a week early. The only good news is that local gas prices have dropped to below $2 a gallon. But even that may not make much of a difference to those who no longer have a job to drive to or can't afford a lift ticket at the slopes.