Labor demand picking up in Mesa County

Phil Castle
Business Times

While the unemployment rate edges downward in Mesa County, David Porfirio remains more interested in other statistics that reflect increasing labor demand.

“We’ve had some positive developments in the last month in our local database,” said Porfirio, manager of business services at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The number of vacant jobs filled through the workforce center has increased, Porfirio said. At the current pace, about 2,000 jobs will be filled over the next year.

Labor demand has increased in a number of industry sectors, Porfirio said, including transportation, sales, maintenance and even construction. The trend bodes well for gradual improvement in the overall labor market, he said. “If this trend continues, that’s very good.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado  Department of Labor and Employment, the unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County fell to 9.3 percent in August. That’s down two-tenths of a point from July and three-tenths of a point from August 2009.

Total payrolls in the county for August 2010 were estimated at 71,014, a gain of 129. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 172 to 7,250. Over the past year, the employed work force has shrunk 2,493 and the number of unemployed has dropped 527.

Porfirio said the number of job orders posted at the center and how quickly those jobs are filled offer a more timely assessment of labor demand. “It reflects the real, true dynamics of the market.”

While about 160 job orders are posted at the center on a given day, those jobs usually are filled within a month. One job order can involve more than one vacancy. At the current rate of turnover, about 2,000 vacancies will be filled a year. Only a few months ago, the pace was closer to 1,200 jobs a year, Porfirio said.

At the same time, the ratios between the number of job applicants registered at the center and job orders posted there have decreased, he said. Lower ratios reflect higher labor demand.

Ratios have dropped to 56-to-1 for truck driving and other transportation positions, 48-to-1 for sales jobs, 43-to-1 for maintenance jobs and 33-to-1 for vacancies in production. The ratio has fallen to 82-to-1 in the construction sector, which has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. The overall ratio for all industry sectors has declined to 56-to-1, he said.

For August, unemployment rates retreated in three of four neighboring Western Colorado counties: falling three-tenths of a point to 8.4 percent in Delta County and 9.6 percent in Montrose County and a half point to 5.5 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth to 8.5 percent in Garfield County.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado rose two-tenths of a point to 8.2 percent in August after four straight months at 8 percent. At this time last year, the rate stood at 7.9 percent.

According to the latest results of a monthly survey of businesses, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado contracted 8,600 in August with losses spread out among seven major industry sectors.

Employment declined 3,800 in the leisure and hospitality sector; 1,600 in government; 1,300 in trade, transportation and utilities; 1,000 in business and professional services; 500 in information and 400 each in manufacturing and financial activities. Slight job gains were reported in two sectors: 100 each in construction and education and health services and 200 in other services.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have retreated 28,100, a 1.3 percent decline. Seven industry sectors have lost jobs: construction, down 15,300; trade, transportation and utilities, down 5,000; leisure and hospitality, down 3,800; information, down 3,600; manufacturing, down 3,500; financial activities, down 2,700; and professional and business services, down 2,000. Four sectors reported gains: education and health services, up 6,700; mining and logging, up 400; government, up 200; and other services, up 100.