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County’s unemployment rate down significantly

Staff Writer

Despite the recent struggles of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, the local economy shows signs of improving this summer, with the unemployment rate for April falling drastically.

According to a report issued last week by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the unemployment rate in Archuleta County for April was 6.3 percent, down quite a bit compared to both the previous month and the previous year. It was 8.2 percent in March and 8.3 percent in April 2013.

While the total labor force in the county only grew by 33 people over the month, there were 5,781 people employed (compared to 5,632 in March) and only 388 unemployed (compared to 504).

The employment situation is also quite a bit better than last year, when the April 2013 unemployment rate was 8.3 percent and there were only 5,455 people employed in the county and 493 who claimed unemployment.

One of the delegates on the agenda for today’s town council meeting is Ed Morlan, the executive director of the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, and while one of the reasons for his visit is to provide an update and introduce himself and his organization to the new town council members, he does have a more specific objective.

“What I would like to do is offer to bring some of the parties together,” Morlan explained in a Tuesday phone interview with SUN staff, “the town, the county, the Chamber and other people, to reset the economic development situation.”

When asked why he didn’t include the CDC in his list of groups he would like to bring together, Morlan laughed and said, “I was wondering if you had noticed that.”

The CDC has been the focus of controversy since its inception, when it took over for the Archuleta Economic Development Association and Steve Vassallo was the executive director.

In 2012, soon after Wal-Mart announced its plan to build a 92,000-square-foot super center on the corner of Aspen Village Drive and Alpha Drive, Mayor Ross Aragon and county commissioner Clifford Lucero were replaced on the CDC board by Muriel Eason and Udgar Parsons, both opponents of Wal-Mart. At the end of that year, both the town and the county cut funding for the CDC from their respective 2013 budgets.

Since then, the CDC has been forced to operate without a staff, without an office and even without a telephone, and board member Jason Cox confirmed to SUN staff that none of its previous business members have renewed their annual membership since then.

At its March meeting, the CDC board made a presentation called “barriers to progress,” in which it reported that Aragon had retired and Hispanic families had dropped from 50 to 25 percent of the Pagosa Springs population. This presentation resulted in allegations of racism, and Udgar Parsons resigned from the board.

Cox also admitted the CDC has conducted no meetings since March, neither its monthly public meeting nor its weekly board work sessions, leaving the community without an active economic development organization.

When asked if he would continue to support the CDC, Morlan said, “I guess that’s one of the questions I would like to ask the town board. What do they want me to do? … We should look at all options. The key thing is to try to get a new direction, get some positive momentum, focusing on an organization for economic development so we can follow up on different projects and things.”

In an earlier interview, Morlan had suggested the Chamber of Commerce might be willing to form an economic development subcommittee that Region 9 could work with in the same way it has worked with the CDC in the past.

At today’s meeting, Morlan plans to ask the town to get re-involved with economic development. “It’s got to be the city and county,” Morlan concluded.

“If they want to be (involved), it’s much more effective. An economic development organization should be the city, the county, the Chamber and other major groups. That’s what the CDC was trying to do, I think, but we need to just refocus things.”

While local officials work on improving Archuleta County’s economic picture, the overall state numbers also show a positive trend.

Comparing Archuleta County’s unemployment rate to the rest of the state, Costilla County had the worst rate for the month with 11.5 percent, while Cheyenne County had the best with 2.4 percent.

Though the local unemployment rate fell by nearly two full percentage points, the state’s unemployment rate only decreased two-tenths of a percentage point in April to 6.0 percent. The last time the Colorado unemployment rate was 6.0 percent or lower was November 2008, when the rate was 5.7 percent.

The number of people participating in the labor force increased 8,900 over the month and the number of people reporting themselves as employed increased 14,400. The larger increase in total employment than in the labor force caused the number of unemployed to decrease 5,600 and the unemployment rate to decline to 6.0 percent.

Over the year, the unemployment rate declined nine-tenths of one percentage point from 6.9 percent in April 2013. The number of Coloradans participating in the labor force increased 43,300, total employment increased 67,400 and the number of unemployed decreased 24,100.

By comparison, the national unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a percentage point to 6.3 percent from March to April and from 7.5 percent in April 2013.

The unemployment rate, labor force, labor force participation, total employment and the number of unemployed are based on a survey of households. The total employment estimate derived from this survey is intended to measure the number of people employed.

Nonfarm payroll jobs estimates, on the other hand, are based on a survey of business establishments and government agencies, and are intended to measure the number of jobs, not the number of people employed.

The business establishment survey covers about seven times the number of households surveyed and is therefore considered a more reliable indicator of economic conditions.

Because the estimates are based on two separate surveys, one measuring jobs by worksite and the other measuring persons employed and unemployed by household, estimates based on these surveys may provide seemingly conflicting results.

Nonfarm payroll jobs increased 13,900 over the month from March to April to 2,438,100 jobs. Private sector payroll jobs increased 13,300 and government increased 600. Colorado has had 30 consecutive months of payroll job gains.

The largest over-the-month private sector job gains were in leisure and hospitality, education and health services, and professional and business services. The largest over-the-month decline was in other services.

Over the year, nonfarm payroll jobs increased 70,800. Private sector payroll jobs increased 65,300 and government increased 5,500. The largest private sector job gains were in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and education and health services. There were no significant over-the-year declines.

Other series based on the survey of business establishments and government agencies include private sector average weekly hours, average hourly earnings and average weekly earnings. Over the year, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased from 34.4 to 34.2 hours and average hourly earnings increased from $25.49 to $26.25.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on May 22, 2014.