Signs continue to indicate that La Plata County's economy is feeling some of the negative effects of the national downturn.When looking at the local data available for the first quarter of 2009 in comparison with the first quarter of 2008, the local economic indicators give a mixed picture.
The unemployment rates for January, February and March 2008 were 3.7, 3.7 and 3.9 percent, respectively. That's an average of 3.76 percent. This year, the unemployment rates for January, February and March were 5.1, 5.6 and 5.8 percent, respectively. That's an average of 5.5 percent (a quarterly increase of 1.74 percentage points).
During the same period (the first quarter of 2008 as compared with the first quarter of 2009), the average unemployment rate for the United States went from 4.93 percent to 8.06 percent (a quarterly increase of over 3 percentage points).
Employment numbers for La Plata County show a slight decrease for the first quarter of 2009 (compared with the same quarter in 2008). The average number employed in the first quarter of 2008 was 29,886. The same average in 2009 was 29,727 (a decrease of 0.53 percent).
Major employers in La Plata County include firms in the service and retail industries. These industries, which include tourist activity, continue to drive the local economy (along with gas and oil extraction).
Passengers using the Durango-La Plata County Airport increased in the first quarter by 18.5 percent, while people riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad decreased by about 4.9 percent.
Visitors to Mesa Verde National Park declined by about 12.5 percent. According to the National Park Service, recreation visits to all national parks during the month of March decreased by 5.85 percent.
Agriculture still remains an important contributor to the local economy. Unadjusted average alfalfa hay prices increased from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009 by 1.2 percent. Adjusted prices increased by the same amount (the price index was about the same for the two quarters compared). Calf prices, on the other hand, fell by 10.6 percent. Industrial kilowatt hours used in the county during the first quarter increased by 10.8 percent.
This is an indicator of industrial activity, including compression of natural gas through pipelines. Natural-gas extraction remains an important part of the local economy.
You can find this data and more online at Four Corners Economic Quarterly Web site: http://soba.fortlewis.edu/econoweb/.
Deborah Walker is an associate professor of economics and co-director of the Office of Economic Analysis and Business Research at Fort Lewis College.