Grand Junction becomes boom town (2022)

Amid the soaring home prices, the rock-bottom jobless rates, the traffic jams and the worker signing bonuses, one indicator typifies the giddy exuberance of the new energy boom: $56 double shots of Grand Marnier 150.

For the uninitiated or those without energy-company expense accounts, the specially aged, orange-flavored liqueur is several steps above – in price and quality – conventional Grand Marnier.

Belly up to the polished maple bar of swanky 626 on Rood in downtown Grand Junction and order a 150, just like a big-time oil and gas executive. But don’t expect restaurant co-owner Brenda Wray to disclose who the high rollers were who recently bought the pricey booze as part of their $1,200 dinner tab.

“Are you kidding me?” Wray exclaims in gleeful mock alarm. “If I said who they were, they’d never be able to come back again!”

Coming back is the big question in Mesa County. Can the economic boost currently provided by the energy industry keep coming back, month after month and year after year?

Here in the commercial hub of western Colorado, raw memories of the last colossal energy bust are never far from the surface.

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Twenty-five years ago last month, Exxon pulled the plug on its Colony oil shale project. The event, infamously known as Black Sunday, left 2,100 workers suddenly without jobs. The resulting fallout plunged the Western Slope economy into a depression that took years to subside.

“There’s that ever-lingering taste in the mouths of people who remember the oil shale bust,” said Mesa State College professor John Redifer, who recently launched a project to study the effects of the energy boom on western Colorado.

Energy boosters say the underpinnings of the current boom are different – and far more sustainable – than the oil shale bubble of the early 1980s.

This time the activity is driven primarily by natural gas in the Piceance Basin, an energy-rich formation northwest of Grand Junction. Gas is a commodity with strong enough national demand that it appears unlikely the impetus to produce it will wane, some experts say.

“Oil shale was government subsidized and government purchased, but what’s driving the natural gas industry is private money,” said Grand Junction energy consultant Wade Haerle of EIS Solutions. “My kids could retire from these (gas) fields. It could be a 70- to 100-year resource.”

Wary of overextending

Others are less sure of the boom’s longevity.

Mike Anton owes much of his business success to oil and gas, but he’s resisting the temptation to milk everything he can out of the energy industry’s activity.

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Anton’s Rocky Mountain Electric Motors has grown from four workers when he started the business in 1995 to 38 today. Two years ago, he started a subsidiary firm to supply power generators to drilling sites that now does $2 million a year in sales.

Yet Anton is turning down business from the energy industry because he’s concerned that his company’s growth rate can’t be sustained.

“We recognize that oil and gas will eventually slow down and there will probably be an adjustment in the Western Slope economy,” he said. “How far away that is, I don’t know. But we’re being cautious. We haven’t overextended ourselves buying equipment and hiring workers.”

Just to keep the workers he has, in the face of competition from high-paying oilfield jobs, Anton has been forced to increase wages in the past two years from $7-$8 an hour for entry-level employees to $12-$13. Anton’s journeymen workers now make as much as $27 an hour compared with $14 two years ago.

The newfound economic strength is attributable not only to energy but to an initiative to broaden the region’s job base, said Ann Driggers of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.

“We have a very solid and diverse economy,” she said. “Energy is the icing on the cake.”

The tourism industry and health care, anchored by the 2,000-worker St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center, are major employers in Mesa County. Officials have been modestly successful in attracting light manufacturing, although several large employers such as aerospace firm Hamilton Sunstrand and computer equipment maker 3D Systems have left the area in recent years.

“Double-edged sword”

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Oil and gas firms have added the majority of new jobs over the past two years.

Two of the Western Slope’s biggest energy firms, EnCana and Williams, have reported a 73 percent increase in Colorado jobs, from 2,513 last year to 4,334 this year.

Oil and gas services giant Halliburton is Mesa County’s eighth-largest employer with about 700 workers.

The growing energy workforce is just one of several signs that show Grand Junction and Mesa County to be in the midst of a major expansion producing both positives and negatives. Among the indicators:

More money is churning through the economy. Sales and use tax collections in Grand Junction in the first four months of 2007 were $18 million, an increase of 13 percent from the same period last year.

Home prices are soaring. The median value for single-family homes in Mesa County has gone from $129,000 in 2003 to $151,000 in 2005 to $196,000 this year – an appreciation rate of 52 percent in four years.

Building permits for single-family homes in Grand Junction are 20 percent higher this year compared with 2005, with some new homes in the Redlands area west of town approaching $2 million.

Available apartments and rental homes are practically non-existent. The rental vacancy rate in Grand Junction has gone from 8.7 percent in the first quarter of 2005 to 1.5 percent in this year’s first quarter.

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With rentals tough to find, energy workers are booking hotel rooms for long-term occupancy. That has helped the Grand Junction area’s hotel sector go from one of Colorado’s lowest occupancy rates earlier this decade to the state’s highest – 70 percent in April, according to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report.

The surge of energy workers and higher wages has funneled more disposable income into illegal drugs. Mesa County earlier this month opened a $5 million methamphetamine treatment clinic.

“The boom has been a double-edged sword,” said Jon Peacock, Mesa County’s administrator. “The economy has been beyond vibrant, but there are major impacts on traffic, development, crime and social services.”

One beneficiary has been Bob Fuoco, whose Fuoco Motor Co. in Grand Junction has been one of the main suppliers of the ubiquitous white pickup trucks favored by oil and gas drillers and related service companies.

“Every month this year we have exceeded our best sales ever,” Fuoco said.

Fleet truck sales account for much of the business growth, but plenty of energy-company managers have come in to plunk down $60,000 cash for a new Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle.

“We’ve got some guys making a lot of money around here,” he said.

Some of them have rented rooms at the plush inn at the Two Rivers Winery and Chateau in Grand Junction.

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That’s well and good, said winery co-owner Bob Witham, but that doesn’t alleviate his concern about the sustainability of the boom.

“You really need to be thinking about what happened 25 years ago,” he said. “History repeats itself, and that’s a scary thing for me. I wonder if people realize that it could crash just as fast as it has gone up.”

Staff writer Steve Raabe can be reached at 303-954-1948 or sraabe@denverpost.com.

FAQs

Is Grand Junction growing? ›

Grand Junction has a 2020 population of 66,958. It is also the county seat of Mesa County. Grand Junction is currently growing at a rate of 1.05% annually and its population has increased by 2.13% since the most recent census, which recorded a population of 65,560 in 2010.

Why is Grand Junction famous? ›

Now home to more than 20 wineries, Grand Junction is known as Colorado's Wine Country. The warm days and cool nights are exceptional conditions for producing hearty grapes, and red wine varietals in particular flourish in the conditions.

Are people moving to Grand Junction? ›

In Grand Junction, we're on the move and growing, both in population and, not surprisingly, in new jobs at the City of Grand Junction to serve our growing population. If you're seeking a new and exciting challenge or looking to relocate, consider Grand Junction and a career with the City.

Why is it called Grand Junction? ›

In September 1881, the area experienced a land rush settlement and a townsite was staked. This town, located in the Grand Valley, was first called Ute, then West Denver and finally came to be known as Grand Junction. The name stems from its location at the confluence—or junction—of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers.

What is the racial makeup of Grand Junction Colorado? ›

The 5 largest ethnic groups in Grand Junction, CO are White (Non-Hispanic) (78.3%), White (Hispanic) (14.5%), Two+ (Non-Hispanic) (1.85%), Other (Hispanic) (1.6%), and Asian (Non-Hispanic) (1.24%).

Is Grand Junction considered a major city? ›

Grand Junction is the biggest city in western Colorado, with a population of around 62,218 as of 2020.

Is Grand Junction a nice place to live? ›

Voted one of the safest places in America, with big-city amenities and a small town atmosphere, Grand Junction is a great place to live, work, and play!

What is living in Grand Junction Colorado like? ›

Grand Junction, a lively town in Colorado's Grand Valley, is a fantastic place to live. We're surrounded by endless outdoor recreation, beautiful nature spots, a bustling downtown area, diverse dining, and so much more.

Is it always windy in Grand Junction? ›

Wind in Grand Junction is usually calm. The windiest month is June, followed by May and April.

What is the best place to live in Colorado? ›

Colorado Springs and Boulder were ranked as some of the best places to live in the United States in 2022, according to U.S. News and World Report. Colorado Springs was ranked as second overall, falling only behind Hunstville, Ala. The city got a score of 6.4 out of 10 for quality of life and 5.7 for value.

Is Grand Junction CO A good place to retire? ›

If you type “best places to retire” into Google, you'll find Grand Junction, Colorado, to be among the top locations popular with retirees. It's not surprising given Grand Junction's abundance of recreational opportunities, gorgeous weather, and small-town living.

What is the cost of living in Grand Junction Colorado? ›

Grand Junction cost of living is 95.9
COST OF LIVINGGrand JunctionColorado
Grocery101.7100.7
Health102.795.8
Housing102.5166.1
Median Home Cost$318,200$488,600
4 more rows

Is Grand Junction Colorado a desert? ›

Grand Junction sits in a large area of high desert lands in Western Colorado.

Is Grand Junction a mountain town? ›

Grand Junction – Western Plateau at 4,583′

It is the Mesa County Seat, aptly named for the abundance of flat topped mountains in the region. In fact, the largest and grandest one in the world lies a little more than an hour east of town.

Is Grand Junction worth visiting? ›

Grand Junction is one of the capitals of the Western Slope and is packed with fantastic, exciting, and absolutely beautiful things to do. To start, Grand Junction is the home of the Colorado National Monument — a rust-colored canyon known for its rock formations, hiking trails, and epic views out over the Grand Valley.

What is the average household income in Grand Junction Colorado? ›

Table
Population
Income & Poverty
Median household income (in 2020 dollars), 2016-2020$54,570
Per capita income in past 12 months (in 2020 dollars), 2016-2020$31,427
Persons in poverty, percent 13.5%
54 more rows

Is Grand Junction rural or urban? ›

Population in 2019: 63,597 (100% urban, 0% rural). Zip codes: 81501, 81503, 81505, 81506.

Does it snow in Grand Junction Colorado? ›

Grand Junction experiences some seasonal variation in monthly snowfall. The snowy period of the year lasts for 2.0 months, from November 29 to January 31, with a sliding 31-day snowfall of at least 1.0 inches. The month with the most snow in Grand Junction is December, with an average snowfall of 1.8 inches.

What is the least populated town in Colorado? ›

The Town of Lakeside is a Statutory Town in Jefferson County, Colorado, United States. The town population was 8 at the 2010 United States Census, making Lakeside the least populous municipality in the State of Colorado.

What are the 3 biggest cities in Colorado? ›

Colorado

Does Grand Junction have a homeless problem? ›

Because of its accessibility and services, Grand Junction most likely has the largest homeless population within a 150-mile radius in each direction, and once in the city, mobility can be difficult due to the limited public transportation.

Is Grand Junction a college town? ›

Grand Junction

Almost within spitting distance to Utah, this Colorado college town is where Colorado Mesa University is. With 11,000 students total, the college makes up a good chunk of the city's nearly 66,000 residents.

Why is Grand Junction so hot? ›

However, other factors are making it exceedingly hot. According to Brianna Bealo, NWS Meteorologist, ”as far as the general conditions, basically there's a great big dome of high pressure that's been sitting over us for the last several days, and it's a very strong high pressure and it hasn't been moving.

Why is it so windy this year in Colorado? ›

Winds across the world are driven by the temperature difference between the equator and the poles, and this difference is strongest in wintertime for the northern hemisphere. That's why the Boulder area—located in the mid-latitudes—tends to have stronger winds in the winter, according to Lundquist.

What was the coldest temperature ever recorded in Grand Junction Colorado? ›

The lowest recorded temperature in Grand Junction is -23.0°F (-30.6°C), which was recorded in January. The average amount of precipitation for the year in Grand Junction is 9.4" (238.8 mm).

What is the fastest growing city in Colorado? ›

The fastest growing city in Colorado is the Greeley metro area. Its population grew by 32.1% from 2010 to 2020 to 333,983 residents.

What is the most affordable mountain town in Colorado? ›

Canon City

With a population of about 16,750 you may be surprised that Cañon City, Colorado made it on our list of the most affordable places to live. But this small town is nestled right at the base of the Rocky Mountains and offers a wide variety of things to do.

What is the warmest town in Colorado? ›

Lamar. The warmest place in Colorado is a city called Lamar, a small town located 209 miles southwest of Denver, due east of Pueblo. What is this? In 2019, it broke the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in Colorado climbing to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

Does Colorado tax your pension? ›

Colorado Income Tax

Colorado law excludes from Colorado state income tax total pension income up to $20,000 per year per person for those retirees age 55 through 64, or $24,000 for those retirees age 65 and over. The retiree's age on December 31 is used to determine the exclusion amount for that year.

What's the elevation of Grand Junction Colorado? ›

Grand Junction, city, seat (1883) of Mesa county, western Colorado, U.S. It lies in the Grand Valley (elevation 4,586 feet [1,398 metres]), at the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

Is Grand Junction good place to live? ›

Voted one of the safest places in America, with big-city amenities and a small town atmosphere, Grand Junction is a great place to live, work, and play!

What's it like living in Grand Junction? ›

Grand Junction, a lively town in Colorado's Grand Valley, is a fantastic place to live. We're surrounded by endless outdoor recreation, beautiful nature spots, a bustling downtown area, diverse dining, and so much more.

Is Grand Junction CO A good place to retire? ›

If you type “best places to retire” into Google, you'll find Grand Junction, Colorado, to be among the top locations popular with retirees. It's not surprising given Grand Junction's abundance of recreational opportunities, gorgeous weather, and small-town living.

What is the population of Grand Junction metro area? ›

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