Colorados unemployed number in the hundreds of thousands and their ranks are still growing as 2010 comes to a close. Will 2011 bring better news for job seekers?
Despite the year ending with sobering unemployment statistics, researchers and public officials say there could be slight improvements for those looking for jobs next year.
As many as 15,000 new positions could be added to the states job pool, according to a November forecast from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Other agencies made predictions earlier this year projecting improvements of up to 33,000 jobs.
In fact, about 3,800 new jobs were created in Colorado in November, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Despite that gain, about 2,400 fewer Colorado residents were employed in November, the report said.
An estimated 6,900 people spent the month looking for work but didnt find it, the report said, and unemployment grew in 62 of the states 64 counties. La Plata County was among them, with the countys non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rising from 6.2 percent in October to 6.9 percent in November.
All told, Colorado companies shed an estimated 35,000 employees in 2010, according to a report issued by Broomfield-based economic researcher Gary Horvath.
Horvath suggests employment in a few key Colorado job markets have bottomed out, including advanced technology and manufacturing. Some slight improvements are appearing in other markets, meanwhile, including construction and temporary employment.
But local economic development officials said they are bracing for another year of employment or unemployment pain.
I think were going to be dealing with this for a while longer, said La Plata County Commissioner Wally White.
Ready for the worst
Public officials and local economic development boards and agencies said they are preparing for the possibility of more unemployed residents in 2011 and less funding to help offset the expiration of federal stimulus programs designed for job creation.
The Colorado State Demographers Office predicted last month that the state will see no job growth or up to a 1 percent decline next year.
Were trying to answer questions like how can we work more efficiently, said Chloe Wiebe, regional supervisor at the Colorado Workforce Center.
Meanwhile, theyve also been vocal with requests that federal officials duplicate successes that arose from federal stimulus programs this year, Wiebe said.
One successful stimulus program, Hire Colorado, paid for hiring and training employees for companies willing to create new jobs, Wiebe said. In some cases, state Workforce Centers reimbursed companies for wages paid to qualified new hires. In others, the state acted as the employer and paid the employees directly.
Though the subsidy was only temporary, many companies made the newly hired employees permanent and the program ultimately offer some longevity in stimulating the economy, she said.
The money went straight in to help, straight to the source, said La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter, who is a member on the Southwest Colorado Workforce Board.
But the region cant afford to wait for federal officials to respond to their demands to fill the holes in unemployment programs, Hotter said.
In fact, Hotter said sometimes she thinks government just needs to figure out how to get out of the way.
So 2011 could be a year of notable collaborations to ease the regions collective unemployment pains, she said.
Collaborating for job creation
Some collaborations forming now were mandated by state and federal officials.
For instance, the federal Workforce Investment Act put key job seekers services under one roof. In some metropolitan areas, unemployed residents can access a number of useful programs in one place, such as human services, vocational rehabilitation and housing programs, said Ronnie Zaday, chairwoman of the Southwest Workforce Board.
In rural communities, one-stop service is a more difficult proposition.
So the Southwest Workforce Board, a collaboration between Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores Counties, was formed, Zaday said.
The board will bring unemployment programs, education, economic development and local business leaders together in efforts to create jobs and combat rising unemployment.
Many of the boards seats have been filled, Zaday said, but many more private business owners and leaders from the collaborating counties are still needed, Zaday said.
Other county and regional collaborations to spur economic development and job creation have also gained traction in recent months.
Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado connects officials and businesses from five area counties and two Native American tribes.
And those communities have economic development groups similar to the La Plata Economic Development Alliance, which is made up of business leaders and public officials from La Plata County and each of the countys major cities and towns.
Dozens of agencies and organizations, public and private, are all working independently and cooperatively to spur economic development and job creation in the Four Corners, said Wiebe, Zaday and Hotter.