Unemployment rates rise in Roosevelt, Curry counties

By Gabe Monte: Freedom New Mexico

Local economic development experts said Cannon Air Force Base’s transition to a special operations wing has softened the blow of unemployment in the area.

New Mexico’s unemployment rate climbed to 4.9 percent in December, a 53 percent jump from 3.2 percent a year ago. Smaller increases occurred in Curry and Roosevelt counties, according to a report from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

Curry County’s December 2008 unemployment rate rose 27 percent to 2.8 percent compared to the previous year. Roosevelt County’s rate rose by 42.1 percent to 2.7 percent, according to the report.

The national unemployment rate in December was 7.2 percent.

Unemployment rates in Curry County began to increase in May 2008, with a 30 percent spike in August. In Roosevelt County the increase started in June and the biggest increase was in December.

Clovis Industrial Development Corp. Executive Director Chase Gentry said the base employs local contractors and construction workers for projects at the base.

“There’s a lot of projects that are starting on the base expansion where they’re hiring local people to work out there,” he said.

He said other industries such as call centers and Southwest Cheese have not made cuts to their workforce. However, they have stopped hiring seasonal or temporary employees because of the slow economy.

Gentry said American Medical Alert grew from 45 to 75 employees in 2008 after moving to its new location on Hilltop Plaza. The call center moved to Clovis in 2007.

“They’ve been doing steady (ramp) up but they’re up to 75 employees and they’re slowly adding people,” he said.

In Roosevelt County, the overall hike in unemployment was brought on by the temporary shutdown of the Abengoa Bioenergy ethanol plant in October and the increase in minimum wage, according to Greg Fisher, director of economic development for the Roosevelt County Community Development Corp.

“Typically retailers have to give everybody the minimum wage raise and they’re cutting their bottom two employees,” he said.

Gentry said an unemployment rate in the 2 percent range typically covers people that are not employable because they lack education or are disabled.

“There’s a large number of people that just don’t want to work … or have trouble holding down a job,” he said.

Aside from Cannon Air Force Base, Fisher said the eastern New Mexico region can look to the alternative energy industry to create jobs this year.

“We have had a lot of people interested in alternative energy projects and commercial development,” he said. “We hope we’re going to see a pretty stable market this year.”

Roosevelt County unemployment rates
2007 2008
January 2.9 2.1
February 2.8 2.3
March 2.4 2.3
April 2.5 2.3
May 2.4 2.5
June 3.2 3.4
July 3.3 3.6
August 2.7 3.3
September 2.4 2.4
October 2.0 2.5
November 2.1 2.4
December 1.9 2.7

Source:New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions