Summit County jobless rate hits four-year low |

Summit County jobless rate hits four-year low

Caddie Nath

The unemployment rate in Summit County fell to a four-year low in March, dipping to 5 percent for the first time since January 2009.

The number indicates an economic recovery that has already produced higher occupancy rates, increased sales and busier ski slopes is now beginning to catch up with the job market, which has lagged steadily behind even as other indicators experienced an upsurge last year.

“We have been seeing sales tax numbers finally recovering to, in some cases, pre-recession levels, which means that it’s busier,” Summit Independent Business Alliance executive director Corry Mihm said. “People are spending again, and the traffic is higher so that is causing (employers) to be able to rehire more people that they weren’t able to during the recession.”

The job market in Summit County began to falter in 2008, when the local unemployment rate — which had previously hovered around 3 percent, fluctuating with the seasons — rose to as high as 4 percent in the winter and 5 percent in the spring. But rock bottom didn’t arrive until 2010, when unemployment hit 6.7 percent in December and 11.2 percent in May, when there were 1,601 people without jobs in Summit.

The county gained some, but very little traction in 2011, when business owners reported more than 100 applications pouring in for just a few openings. The following year, the job market was again stronger, but unemployment rates continued to climb into the double digits during Summit County’s economic low tide in the late spring, even as some industries saw sales climb past 2007 levels.

But in the first three months of 2013, the economy added roughly 1,000 jobs over the same time last year in a market that has not exceeded 20,000 workers in recent years, sending the unemployment rate to 5.3 percent in January and February and to a four-year low of 5 percent in March.

For some in the business community the increase in jobs, and the overall economic recovery, has translated into a modest decrease in applicants who seem to be looking to the tourism industry for work while waiting for hiring in other fields to pick up.

“We were seeing a lot of people that may be delaying their entry into a conventional workforce, or may be laying over in the resort industry,” Breckenridge restaurant owner Ken Nelson said.

Nelson also said the increase in jobs might be related to the delay of the Affordable Care Act, alleviating, at least for a while, a financial burden on small-business owners and giving them some additional hiring power in the near term.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment projects the increase in available jobs to continue in the north-central region of the state, indicating potential increases in our area in positions in both the retail and the restaurant industries in the next 10 years.

Nelson agreed, saying he plans to add at least a few jobs at his three restaurants this year.

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