What will the economy do next? It is the No. 1 question people in the Leeds community have been asking since the start of the pandemic—which makes it all the more fortuitous that the top economic forecasters in Colorado are based right here at Leeds.
Helping us navigate the roller coaster of the pandemic recession, Brian Lewandowski, executive director of the Leeds Business Research Division (BRD), had good news to share this past August. “We are pleasantly surprised by the speedy recovery and momentum of the Colorado economy, he said. “We can confidently say momentum will carry into 2022, with a full jobs recovery next year.”
The BRD is known statewide for its annual production of the Colorado Business Economic Outlook, which provides a forecast of the state’s economy by sector, as well as the quarterly Leeds Business Confidence Index, which gauges Colorado business leaders’ opinions about the economy.
“This pandemic recession was different from any other recession we’ve studied. The recovery has been very different too,” explained Lewandowski. Normally, he explained, we would see jobs lost, incomes decrease, and asset values and the stock market fall. But unlike the Great Recession or Great Depression, government intervention came in at a greater magnitude and faster than ever before.
With trillions of dollars spread throughout the economy, he said, personal incomes actually went up and enabled people to continue spending, which helped prop up the economy. In addition, both the stock market and housing prices hit record levels.
Where are the workers?
In its midyear economic update in summer this year, the BRD reported that Colorado’s gross domestic product and personal spending increased significantly in the first half of 2021, with job growth rebounding at more than double the rate than expected.
“Now that the labor market is shifting from a lack of demand for workers to a shortage of supply, the employment recovery is not a matter of if the jobs will come back, but when,” according to Richard Wobbekind, associate dean for business and government relations, senior economist and faculty director of the BRD.
“We went from a shortage of job opportunities for people, to a shortage of people for jobs in very short order,” said Lewandowski, which explains why some businesses are having to close one to two days a week or shorten their hours because of the lack of workers. Some restaurants and hotels, in fact, are offering hiring bonuses and other incentives to attract employees.
The shortage of labor is a complex issue: Augmented unemployment benefits may have disincentivized people to seek employment; some decided it was a good time to retire; parents (notably women) were forced to give up their jobs and stay home with children; and others decided it was a good opportunity to upskill or reskill.
Over the stretch of the pandemic thus far, staff members at the BRD have been quoted hundreds of times in the news and have given more than 115 presentations in the last two years, compared to about half of that in non-pandemic times. Given the demand for BRD’s expertise, attendance at this year’s annual Colorado Business Economic Outlook Forum on December 6 may topple turnout of the previous 56 years.