County's jobless rate declines

Moffat County's unemployment rate inched down to 7.4 percent in February following January's nine-month high of 7.9 percent.

That means 489 residents were without jobs in February.

Moffat County's unemployment is higher than the state's 5.7 percent, but officials say that's not unusual in an area with a high concentration of seasonal work -- and seasonal workers.

Unemployment rates tend to be high January through April -- months that typically don't see a lot of construction activity. The construction industry provides for 16.7 percent of Moffat County's jobs -- the third highest industry for number of people employed, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Construction follows the service and retail trade industries for jobs provided.

Colorado Workforce Center Labor and Employment Specialist Linda Dill said ski season and construction season are two major contributors to Moffat County's employment rate -- with construction providing the most jobs because residents can work in construction in both Routt and Moffat counties, whereas ski industry jobs are only available in Routt County.

And early spring has opened construction jobs about three weeks ahead of schedule.

"Spring kicked in early this year, which is a plus for us," she said. "Jobs usually available in April are now available in March."

Dill believes that will make a difference in March's historically high unemployment rate.

"We're starting to see more summer jobs opening up now," Dill said. "We're getting more job orders for construction."

Though the early snowmelt may mean fewer skiers, it didn't necessarily mean fewer jobs.

The Steamboat Ski and Resort Association hires 1,500 to 1,600 seasonal workers for its winter season and about 200 to 250 for the summer season, which begins in mid-June.

Winter layoffs started at the end of March -- following the spring break rush -- and will max out by April 11, the last day the mountain is open.

The Association hired about 125 international workers for the winter, a number that was significantly lower than usual because more locals applied for positions, said Sue Kerrigan, human resources administrator for the Association.

Other Steamboat businesses will begin layoffs next week, according to Irene Bell, director of human resources for the Steamboat Sheraton.

The Sheraton hires about 100 seasonal workers, some of whom come from outside of the United States because not enough local workers apply to filled the number of positions needed.

Hiring beings in October.

Officials with the Sheraton assist employees in applying for unemployment if needed, but Bell couldn't say how many workers take advantage of the service. She said some employees collect unemployment between the seasons, others return to school or home and still other take a summer job.

"It's hard to tell," Bell said.

Dill said it's hard to narrow down other causes of employment rate changes in Moffat County.

She believes the environmental retrofit and outage projects at the Craig Station Power Plant are providing some jobs to Moffat County residents, but a lot of the labor force has been brought in by the companies sub-contracted to do the work.

"I think those jobs helped us some," Dill said. "They helped a lot of (construction workers) get through the winter."

Openings at Twentymile Coal Company, Kennecott Energy and Moffat County should also positively impact Moffat County's jobless rate by offering permanent positions.

"Hopefully the unemployment rate will go down because of all these things, but it may not," Dill said. "We'll see the results in a few months.

"Overall, everything is starting to look good."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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