By Mike Linn
The parking lot of the state labor department’s Clovis branch was virtually empty Thursday afternoon.
Inside the building, Bethany Hanner — a 20-year-old who lost her job on Tuesday — searched the labor department’s online database for work.
“This place has been helpful,” she said.
She was the only one there looking for a job.
“These new businesses in Clovis have helped; unemployment in Clovis has gone down lately … and we’ve been a little slower,” said June Orozco, an employment representative in her second year at the Clovis labor department.
The unemployment rate in Curry County fell to 3.1 percent in May from 3.7 percent in May 2003, making it the third lowest unemployment rate (tied with Santa Fe) among 30 counties in the state.
Roosevelt County was second only to Union County with a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in May, down from 3.3 percent a year ago. Union County’s unemployment rate in May was 2.1 percent.
“I think (the low unemployment rate) is obvious because of all the new growth in business,” said Ernie Kos, executive director of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce.
Carlos Casteneda, public information officer for the New Mexico Department of labor, said Curry County’s steady population and influx in business growth can account for the low unemployment rate.
Casteneda said new business in Clovis will create what he described as “musical job chairs.”
In other words, when new business comes in, many employed residents will leave their jobs to work at a new business.
Casteneda said he doesn’t have figures for the last decade but said the unemployment rate “is probably the lowest it has been in the last 10 years” in Curry County.
He said rural communities like Curry County don’t typically follow national unemployment trends.
Metro cities like Albuquerque, he said, are more likely to “ride the coattails” of the national economy because when the national economy is booming big businesses will move into metro areas.
Unlike Thursday, the labor department in Clovis wasn’t always so empty. The department worked with Lowe’s hardware management, bringing prospective employees through the labor department to apply for positions at Lowe’s.
“When Lowe’s first came in they went through us and we had a lot of people come in looking for a job,” Orozco said.
Orozco said the department allows many new businesses to work out of there office to find prospective employees. The service is free to employers and people searching for jobs, she said.