Aerial adventure

A northern view of downtown Grand Junction.

September was a banner month for Mesa County employment numbers.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, Mesa County posted an unemployment rate of 2.5%, the lowest total in the county for a month dating back until at least 1980.

Additionally, the county's labor force rose by more than 1,000 people since August, growing to 78,379 in September.

"It's been a really strong year for our local economy," Mesa County Workforce Center Director Curtis Englehart said.

The data is not seasonally adjusted, meaning the numbers are not smoothed out to control the fluctuations of seasonal jobs, according to Monicque Aragon, an economist with the Department of Labor and Employment. The Labor and Employment office works with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to put together a monthly report. The two have worked together since 1980.

The county's previous low unemployment rate came in May of 2007, prior to the Great Recession, when the rate was 2.7%. A few other months, including May of 2000, saw an unemployment rate of 2.8%, according to Aragon.

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke attributed the strong numbers to several factors, including a shift in the industry sectors. While some energy jobs are going away, manufacturers seem to be hiring. The low rate also makes the hiring process more competitive with fewer applicants in the pool.

She also pointed to a national trend where seniors are moving to a new area and retiring, rather than entering the workforce. However, she said it's encouraging that the labor force is also growing while unemployment shrinks.

"The economy is really firing on all cylinders," she said.

Both Schwenke and Englehart expect to see some flux when October numbers are released later this month when the impact of a recent Halliburton layoff is felt. The energy service provider laid off 178 workers in early October in the Grand Junction area.

"When you have such a huge industry like oil and gas, when there is big layoffs, it has a ripple effect," Englehart said.

Still, Schwenke said there should be enough new jobs in the area for most of the laid off workers to find employment, especially in the manufacturing field.

"That's a snapshot in time, but an encouraging snapshot," she said of September.

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