Unemployment rate drops locally, as area workforce numbers finally stabilize

Jessica Lawrence, left, of Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, LLC., talks about positions open in drilling with 21-year-old Markuz Mitchell, center, and Rhonda Bachelor, 19, both of Grand Junction, during the School to Work Alliance Program’s job fair last week at the Mesa County Workforce Center. . The job fair featured 42 different companies.

A drop in Mesa County’s unemployment rate at the end of March, accompanied by signs of steadiness in the labor force, signal that the Grand Valley’s economy might be on the rise.

The county is seeing “job orders through the roof,” a steady labor force and improvements in the unemployment rate, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center. “Those are three positive signs for our economy.”

The county’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.3 percent in February to 3.8 percent at the end of March.

“I’ve never seen such a significant drop in the unemployment rate,” Englehart said.

The growth in the rate of employment takes on additional heft as it’s cast against the backdrop a labor force that seems to have stopped bleeding.

To be sure, the labor force at the end of March was down from the size of the labor force a number of years ago. The county had a 5.9 percent unemployment rate and a labor force of 72,629 in March 2016 versus this year’s numbers of 3.8 percent and 71,332.

During all of 2016, however, the labor force increased from 70,878 in January to 71,994 in December.

“Our labor force isn’t necessarily growing, but it’s not shrinking,” Englehart said.

The third and possibly most compelling sign of improvement is job orders, or, the number of times employers ask the Workforce Center for applicants.

A job order typically represents one or two jobs, and while orders frequently reflect a need for temporary or seasonal help, job orders for permanent, full-time help are moving sharply up, Englehart said.

As of May 1, employers had submitted 1,218 job orders to the center, well above the 796 a year ago and the 749 in 2012.

The figures match “what I’m hearing anecdotally,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Among those anecdotal improvements: completion and hiring for three rehabilitation centers in the Grand Valley, and having six drill rigs in operation, possibly 8 or 9 by the end of summer, Schwenke said.

“In general, we’re seeing an uptick across the board,” she said. “We want that diversified hiring going on. It does feel like we’ve turned the corner and we’re headed back up.”

The workforce center is well positioned to aid jobseekers and employers with its certification of the county as an ACT Work-Ready Community, Englehart said.

The certification is by the same organization that administers the aptitude test for students.

Mesa is the first county in he state to gain the designation, which can assure companies looking to expand or locate in the Grand Valley of an available and competent work force, Englehart said.

The Workforce Center has 2,500 applicants who have national career-ready certifications, meaning that they have demonstrated various levels of skill.

A bronze certificate, for instance, reflects that a jobseeker has demonstrated foundational job skills, such as math, reading and locating information.

One applicant at the center has a platinum-level certificate reflecting foundational skills with approximately 99 percent of the jobs in the database.

“It’s like getting a 36 on the ACT,” or the best possible score, Englehart said.



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