Unemployment numbers increase

Moffat County sees a growing workforce

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Almost 500 Moffat County residents were out of work in February a jump of more than two percentage points from February of last year, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The increase in unemployment is attributed to a growing workforce, construction layoffs and a decrease in the number of seasonal and retail jobs available, according to Craig's Colorado Workforce Center.

"We had several retail businesses that closed or cut their workforce, construction is down, which is pretty normal for this time of year, and we've been affected by the ski season. The resort isn't hiring as many people," Craig's Colorado Workforce Center employment specialist Kandy Kropinak said. "It's just a combination of things."

Unemployment was at 8.1 percent in February, meaning 488 Moffat County residents were without jobs. In 2001, Moffat County had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent or 333 unemployed workers. Moffat County's average unemployment rate for 2001 was 4.9 percent.

The jobs are there, Kropinak said, so the increase is probably because of Moffat County's growing labor force. In February the workforce numbered 6,040, up by nearly 400 people compared to the same time last year.

The Craig Chamber of Commerce sent 759 relocation packets from February of 2001 to February 2002, Director Cathy Vanatta said.

"A lot of it is because people just like this area," she said.

Vanatta said Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Colowyo Coal Company are bringing in employees and their families to fill open jobs.

There are more job openings posted at the Colorado Workforce Center this year than there were last year. From January 2001, to April 1, 2001, there were 113 job orders at the Workforce Center. In 2002, there were 121.

"We're kind of scratching our heads down here (about the increase)," Kropinak said.

She said the closing of the Country General store and concerns over the economic impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused employers to be more skittish.

"They didn't stop hiring, they just held on tight," Kropinak said.

That was the case for the Steamboat Ski Resort, said Pat Bonny of the Steamboat Springs Colorado Workforce Center.

"We just didn't have the number of housekeeping jobs open. And laundry positions, we really didn't have those either," she said.

Job openings posted with the Steamboat Springs Workforce Center decreased this winter. Bonny said the center usually has about 100 openings to fill during the winter months. This year, there were only about 25.

"The Craig Workforce office has more job orders right now than we do, but some have been up for a long time," she said. "I don't know why with such a high unemployment rate."

In Routt County, the unemployment rate is 2.2 percent.

"Most of the resort-related businesses staffed to about 75 percent this year," Bonny said. "That means they retained their old employees and the ones with seniority."

Added to the reduction in hiring, some resort-related businesses hire international works to fill open positions. Bonny said the Steamboat ski resort hired about 200 internationals, which was less than they originally intended to hire.

The construction industry in both Steamboat Springs and Craig has slowed significantly, which means workers have been laid off.

This is the first time in four years Ed McArthur, owner of Native Excavating, has had to layoff a portion of his workforce. At the end of the fall construction season, he said he laid off about 35 workers. McArthur, who also sits on the board of directors for the Yampa Valley Construction Trades Association, said the level of construction has remained high throughout winter for the past four to six years, but not this year.

"In the past, we used to be able to pass the laid-off ones to Ski Corp, but not this year," he said.

He said expects to see an upturn in 2003.

"With any luck, things will pick up soon and we'll be able to get those people back to work," he said.

McArthur said 25 to 30 percent of his employees are from Craig and 25 to 30 percent of those laid off were from Craig.

That's pretty indicative of the industry, he said.

With an increase in unemployment comes an increased demand for welfare services and the Moffat County Department of Social Services has seen an increase in traffic and program applications. Director Marie Peer said 34 residents received Colorado Works benefits in January of 2001. That number increased to 52 this January.

"It doesn't seem like a big increase, but it really is," she said.

Peer said there is a definite correlation between the unemployment rate and the number of people applying for benefits.

"Before the boom in the 1970s we'd have 120 active Colorado Works cases," she said. "During the boom, when the jobs were there, we'd have maybe 20 a month.

The Colorado Workforce Center offers several services to help residents back to work. They offer the use of telephones, copiers and computers, as well as resume preparation programs.

"We have lot of services we can offer to help people find work," Cropland said.

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