Unemployment rates drop in Curry, Roosevelt counties

Sharna Johnson

Monthly unemployment numbers in Curry and Roosevelt counties dipped to rates that haven’t been seen in two years and officials are crediting expanding industries as the reason.

The most current data available from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions shows in April, Curry County’s unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent and Roosevelt County’s to 4.3 percent.

Those figures are a sharp contrast to January, when unemployment was 1.6 percent higher in Curry and 2.1 percent higher in Roosevelt.

“It seems like that everybody’s attitude has changed and everybody’s feeling better about the economy,” said Chase Gentry, director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corp. “The spin-off of retail and sales usually drives employment.”

Curry County unemployment rates — previously below 4 percent — began climbing in the second half of 2009.

Unemployment in the area has been uncharacteristically high since, with Curry County experiencing its greatest spike in July 2010, at 6 percent.

Roosevelt County — which, like Curry, was below 4 percent until mid-2009 — has undoubtedly fared worse with rates fluctuating between 5 and 6 percent throughout 2010, spiking to almost 7 percent in July.

The numbers do reflect improvement, though they still aren’t where they used to be before economic hardship swept the nation tied to a crisis in the mortgage industry.

“It’s not where it was two years ago, but it’s starting to pick back up,” said Page Tonche with Snelling Staffing in Clovis. “With the economy, it took us a while before it hit out here, but it did hurt.”

Working in the employment and staffing industry, Tonche said she has seen expansion in local industries, such as Southwest Cheese, which has strengthened the local dairy industry through an increased demand for milk — a dynamic that brings jobs.

Coupled with construction at Cannon, there are more labor positions than before, she said.

Tonche said there has also been an increase in jobs for people with higher education.

“We have jobs that do require higher education or college degrees that we’re actually having a hard time filling,” she said. “Those people who do have those degrees are in good jobs and they’re not going to give that up to move.”

Lexie Myers, owner of Snelling Staffing, said she think there are additional factors driving the drop in unemployment.

In recent months, the Curry County Events Center has brought in several large, high profile events, which she said have a ripple effect through the business community.

Restaurants, hotels and retail all see an increase in business with large events, and that creates jobs, Myers said.

“The rodeos brought in a ton of people. It has a very positive effect on the community,” she said. “Employers are having to add on people to keep up with the fluctuation of people coming in over the weekend. We’re so excited. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in Clovis.”

Roosevelt County is bouncing back after its Abengoa Bioenergy plant reopened in January after a two-year shut down, and a trucking business added 100 jobs to the area.

It’s a sign of things continuing to get better, said Greg Fisher, Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation executive director.

Cannon’s growth, agricultural success and the energy industry, he said, are all part of positive progress.

“The good news, I think, is primarily that can continue to grow and despite the adverse drought conditions, our food producers continue to do well, as well as our fuel plant Abengoa,” he said.

“And as we start to see industry develop early next year in the wind industry, I think we’re going to see some more employment jumping in our region.”