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Brookings Mountain West

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This analysis of employment, output, unemployment, and house prices finds that the 10 major metropolitan areas of the Mountain West, despite significant economic headwinds, weathered the first quarter of 2015 with robust economic growth. Eight of the region’s 10 major metro areas advanced on all four metrics of economic performance, and the remaining two metro areas slipped only on a single front.

The national economic slowdown that arrived in early 2015 did not entirely bypass the Mountain West, but the region resisted the drag better than any other. As U.S. economic output contracted by 0.3 percent in the first quarter, Mountain region output expanded by 0.2 percent. Nine out of 10 Mountain metro areas achieved positive output growth, compared to only one in five nationwide.

Job growth proceeded at its fastest rate in over a year in Mountain metro areas. Employment in the region expanded by 0.9 percent over the quarter, compared to 0.6 percent across the country’s 100 largest metro areas. The region’s major metro areas also reported larger declines in unemployment than did their national peer group, despite already having below-average rates.

A chill set in across the region’s housing markets, however. Regionwide, the rate of increase in house prices fell from 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 to 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2015—a less pronounced decline than at the national level but more pronounced than in other large metro areas. Only in Boise and Colorado Springs did house price growth accelerate.

With a 2.2 percent expansion in employment, a 1.0 percent increase in output, and an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent, Provo stood out as the region’s—and perhaps the nation’s—strongest performer in the first quarter. Denver, meanwhile, ended the quarter with nearly 10 percent more jobs than it had in 2008 and remained the only metro area where home prices have fully recovered from the Great Recession.

All together, this quarter’s Monitor finds that, although the rates of recovery still differ, steady economic growth appears to have finally taken hold in every one of the region’s major metro areas. This widespread return to growth suggests that—years after a brutal dislocation—the regional economy is getting back on track.


Economic development; Housing; Housing—Prices; Metropolitan areas--Economic aspects; Recessions; Unemployment


Economics | Economic Theory | Growth and Development | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Real Estate