Lyon Drug Store employee Hayley Sugarman marks bags in the downtown Steamboat Springs store Thursday morning. Yampa Valley Partners says unemployment stress, which uses different factors than usual unemployment percentages, is easing in Routt and Moffat counties. Second quarter retail sales also are expected to be up.

Photo by John F. Russell

Lyon Drug Store employee Hayley Sugarman marks bags in the downtown Steamboat Springs store Thursday morning. Yampa Valley Partners says unemployment stress, which uses different factors than usual unemployment percentages, is easing in Routt and Moffat counties. Second quarter retail sales also are expected to be up.

Report: Jobless stress easing in Routt County

Yampa Valley Partners says workforce to jobs ratio improving

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View additional economic data and analysis at www.yampavalleypartners.com.

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Contact the Colorado Workforce Center for information about jobs and unemployment benefits. Call 970-879-3075, visit www.yourworkforcecenter.com or visit the center’s Steamboat Springs branch, 425 Anglers Drive. Unemployment information and resources also are available at www.colorado.gov/cdle.

— Retail sales through June are projected to be slightly better than the second quarter of 2010, and stress related to unemployment is decreasing in Northwest Colorado, according to a regional economic forecast.

“The gross retail sales second quarter forecast is showing an optimistic 4 to almost 7 percent increase over last year. Last fall, in both counties, our gross retail sales slightly surpassed the national average,” according to the forecast produced by Yampa Valley Partners, which interprets national and local economic data to help community discussions in Routt and Moffat counties.

The potential good news for local businesses is coupled with apparent improvements in the local job market, indicating that Northwest Colorado’s economy is climbing, or at least staggering, out of the national recession.

“In Routt (County), the economic stress indicator has been trending better than last fall,” the report states. “The forecast for the economic stress indicator is continued improvement, albeit at a very slow pace. It appears we have left the worst of 2009 behind.”

Scott Ford, former director of the Routt County Economic Development Cooperative and now an adviser to Yampa Valley Partners, said Yampa Valley Partners uses a stress indicator with a different calculation than traditional unemployment percentages.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported last month that Routt County had an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in March, compared with February’s 8.4 percent and January’s 8.6 percent rates.

Ford said those percentages are reached by dividing the number of active unemployment claims by an area’s workforce. He said that can be a misleading calculation in areas such as Northwest Colorado, though, where as much as half of the workforce is employed outside its home county, skewing interpretations of unemployment claims, tax returns and other factors.

“In smaller communities … small changes can cause this thing to be a little distorted as a percentage,” Ford said about state unemployment figures.

He said the stress indicator, conversely, looks at the ratio between an area’s workforce and number of jobs, disregarding unemployment claims.

“When those numbers begin to move, something’s happening,” Ford said.

A Yampa Valley Partners graph tracking unemployment stress since 1991 showed a January 2011 level that was much closer to equilibrium — between number of jobs and number of people in the workforce — than a year ago and than nearly all of 2009.

“There is still (job-related) stress and we are not where we need to be, but our stress indicator is showing improvement,” the report states.

Ford said the data doesn’t mean Routt County has as many jobs or as large of a workforce as pre-recession years — “We certainly don’t,” he said — but it does mean the two factors are moving closer to an ideal, one-to-one ratio, even accounting for seasonal job market fluctuations.

“The trend is definitely toward the positive,” he said. “This is good news.”

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com

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