GarCo unemployment rate drops to sixth lowest in state
Plenty of jobs and too few workers to fill them. It’s a well-known story in Garfield County, but the unemployment rate continues to drop, affordable housing in parts of the county remains sparse and the help wanted signs linger. Unemployment in Garfield County reached one of the lowest levels in Colorado in October, surpassed on the Western Slope only by Rio Blanco County. The Garfield County unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in October, the latest month for which Colorado Department of Labor statistics are available. Unemployment here dropped from 3.4 percent in September 2005, and 3.8 percent in October 2004, reaching a low surpassed by only five other Colorado counties – mostly in the eastern plains. The department reported that out of a labor force of 29,841 people, 955 Garfield County residents were without jobs in October. The Durango-La Plata County micropolitan area also had an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent. Statistics for November are expected to be released in mid-December. “If somebody wants to work in our area, they can find a job,” said Parachute town manager Juanita Satterfield. But, “it might not be the job they desire.”Rio Blanco County, which, like Garfield County, is experiencing an energy boom, had an unemployment rate of 3.1 percent in October. Only Rio Blanco, Yuma, Sedgwick, Hinsdale and Cheyenne counties had lower unemployment rates than Garfield County. Pitkin County’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, up from 4.1 percent in September.While it may seem obvious many available jobs are connected with the energy boom, “I don’t know if people have thought about what we can do to get more employees,” said Marianne Virgili, executive director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort AssociationThat’s an issue Satterfield has dealt with intimately. The town of Parachute has two public works positions open, but she said she’s not being overwhelmed with applications. “Energy companies are constantly soliciting employees,” she said. “We can’t compete with the wages. Budget wise, I can’t go out and pay somebody $20 to $25 an hour to start in a position.”Despite the plethora of retail positions available with the advent of Glenwood Meadows in Glenwood Springs, the energy industry is where the jobs are at, said Joseph Winter, an economist for the state Department of Labor.The natural gas boom and the service industry that supports it are accounting for the rising employment numbers, but with a multitude of variables factoring into the number of available jobs in the county, it’s hard to predict how long the unemployment rate will continue to drop or at what level it could be in the near future, he said. In the long term, he said, jobs in the natural gas industry will likely be sustained until most of the gas wells are drilled, after which, the drilling jobs will disappear. Conversely, he said, if oil shale extraction moves forward in the area, “you’re looking at 50 years worth of work.”Rifle town manager John Hier said the city’s chamber of commerce has sent out an enormous number of relocation packages recently as energy development expands. Rifle Chamber of Commerce Director Patty Lambert could not be reached for comment. But that growth or potential growth doesn’t necessarily stretch upvalley.”Our relocation numbers, they’ve increased somewhat,” said Virgili. “But we’re in a different situation than Rifle in that we don’t have a lot of vacant land or home vacancies.”She said that while gas field workers live in motels throughout the county for long-term temporary lodging, more hotels, motels and affordable housing will soon sprout throughout the region – mostly west of Glenwood. Already, she said, two or three national hotel chains have expressed interest in building in the Glenwood area. More important is the need for affordable housing – a notion that causes some in the valley to recoil, she said.”They don’t want that in their backyard,” Virgili said, but such housing doesn’t have to be ugly. “It just means that instead of buying a $350,000 four-bedroom house, you have the option of a three-bedroom condominium in the high $200,000 range.”Affordable housing can’t be built fast enough in the Grand Valley, said Satterfield. One “eight-plex” condominium was just completed in Parachute and there’s another in the works. “Building permits are going out almost as fast they can bring them in,” she said. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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