Local unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Kristi Shelby of Fruita staples together a stack of large architectural drawings fresh out of a copier in the printing department of LK Survey Instruments & Reprographics, 575 25 Road. The business won the Business Expansion Award from the Chamber of Commerce Friday.

Mesa County’s unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point since February 2009 this September, when 8.5 percent of the county’s work force was unemployed, down from 9.5 percent in August.

The state unemployment rate also improved, going from 8.3 percent in August to 7.6 percent in September, according to data released Friday by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The state hasn’t had an unemployment rate that low since January 2009, when Colorado’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent.

The number of employed Mesa County residents grew to 70,816 people in September, a 1.5 percent jump from August. The number of unemployed people in the area shrank to 6,616, a 9.6 percent drop compared with August.

The county had 590 fewer working residents this September than it had last September, but also 917 fewer people looking for work. The local economy may not be fully recovered from the economic recession, but it’s at least stabilizing, according to LK Survey Instruments President Curtis Gray.

Gray, whose engineering supply business at 575 25 Road is tied to the construction and energy fields, has added four employees since May 1 and spent $60,000 on expansions. One of those employees is in Grand Junction, but the rest are in new locations Gray opened this May and September in Minot and Dickinson, N.D., and one in Evanston, Wyo.

Gray said then-Grand Junction residents kept telling him they were moving elsewhere for oil and gas jobs, so he decided to follow them to their new jobs. He plans to open another location next month in southwestern Texas.

Even though he’s tracking other energy booms, Gray hasn’t given up on Grand Junction.

“I’m very optimistic. I think the Grand Junction area will be a little stronger next year,” Gray said.

If banks begin lending more often and business owners begin to share Gray’s optimism, he said he could even foresee another energy boom here in four or five years.

One business person who was optimistic even before seeing September’s unemployment rate was Debbie Harrison, co-owner of Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services at 2470 F Road, Suite 6. She said her business was able to expand with 17 new employees this year because the demand was there, no matter what unemployment rates the Grand Junction area had earlier in 2011.

“Don’t believe the news,” she said.

Al Snow, district manager of Eastern Reservoir Services at 560 25 Road, said the energy industry-related company has been able to hire 32 employees this year because some energy jobs have returned to the area following two slow years. But things aren’t entirely back to the old “normal.”

“It would be beneficial to get back to where we were four or five years ago,” Snow said. “I think we’re on the right path at the moment.”


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