Mesa County unemployment 8.1 percent

At 8.1 percent, Mesa County’s unemployment rate reached its lowest point since February 2009 this September, according to data released Friday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Just like the county, Colorado added employees and decreased the number of unemployed in September, which shifted the state unemployment rate from 7.8 percent in August to 7.4 percent in September.

The number of Mesa County residents searching for work fell below 7,000 for the first time in 2012 last month, when 6,654 locals were unemployed and seeking a job.

September also marked the sixth consecutive month of job growth in the county. Mesa County had a net gain month-over-month of 1,094 employees in September, bringing the total number of local workers to 75,387.

Local employment isn’t quite back to pre-recession levels. The county had 5,455 more workers in September 2008 than in September 2012 and the number of unemployed Mesa County residents reported by the state has more than doubled since four Septembers ago.

An improvement in the local unemployment rate is “definitely encouraging,” according to Mesa County Workforce Center Business Services Manager Suzie Miller. But the economic roller coaster of the last few years leaves her with “cautious optimism.”

“It seems like whenever we have something that takes us forward, we have something that takes us a step back,” Miller said, referencing this week’s news that Choice Hotels, one of the largest employers in the Grand Valley, will close its Grand Junction call center by the end of 2012.

Miller said some of the call center’s employees will be able to work from home or move to Arizona to keep their job. For others, she hopes the workforce center can help fill some slots at Star Tek, another call center that is hiring locally. “Hopefully we’ll be able to make that connection. Hopefully their skills won’t go to waste,” Miller said.

The workforce center has posted 2,250 job orders so far in 2012, 14 orders ahead of year-to-date totals for job orders in 2008. Job orders can include one or dozens of job openings.

Miller said retail, office and administrative support and production jobs are in demand, with retailers T.J. Maxx and Tractor Supply and restaurants Chomps and Zoup set to open soon. “Hopefully seasonal, holiday hiring will help unemployment remain relatively low,” Miller said.

January, however, may see a spike in the joblessness given past trends, Miller said, and because federal unemployment benefits extensions are scheduled to end in December. As of September, 1,002 Mesa County residents were receiving continuing unemployment benefits, according to the workforce center, which is the lowest count since the center began tracking benefits in January 2008, when 4,150 locals were on continued unemployment benefits.

December 2008 had the highest count of benefit recipients in the county between January 2008 and the present at 5,295 recipients.


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