Although there are signs that La Plata County's economy is feeling some of the negative effects of the national downturn, when compared to the nation, we aren't faring too badly.
When looking at the local data available for the last quarter of 2007 in comparison with the last quarter of 2008, the local economy is holding its own in many areas.
The unemployment rates for October, November and December 2007 were 2.6, 2.9 and 3.1 percent, respectively. That's an average of 2.86. The unemployment rates for October, November and December 2008 were 3.5, 4.0 and 3.8, respectively. That's an average of 3.76 (a quarterly increase of almost 1 percentage point). During the same time frame (the fourth quarter of 2007 as compared with the fourth quarter of 2008), the average unemployment rate for the United States went from 4.8 to 6.8 percent (a quarterly increase of 2 percentage points).
Interestingly, employment numbers for La Plata County show job growth for the fourth quarter of 2008 (compared with the same quarter in 2007). The average number employed in the fourth quarter of 2007 was 30,841. The same average in 2008 was 31,429 (an increase of 1.9 percent). This means more people are entering the labor force, and at least some are finding jobs. Comparing the same time frame, employment numbers for the United States declined by about 1.6 percent from quarter to quarter.
Major employers in La Plata County include firms in the service, retail, government and construction 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 fourth quarter by around 18 percent, while people riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad decreased by about 14 percent (this is an estimate). Visitors to Mesa Verde declined by about 3.7 percent. According to the National Park Service, recreational visits to all national parks during the fourth quarter increased by about 0.87 percent from 2007 to 2008.
Agriculture still remains an important contributor to the local economy. Unadjusted average alfalfa hay prices increased from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008 by 20 percent. Adjusted prices increased about 17.8 percent. Calf prices, on the other hand, fell by 12.8 percent (unadjusted) or by 14.4 percent when adjusted for inflation.
Industrial kilowatt hours used in the county during the fourth quarter increased by 9.2 percent (estimate). 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.
Readers can find this data and more by visiting at our Four Corners Economic Quarterly Web site at http://soba.fortlewis.edu/econoweb. We will continue to provide quarterly data of many local economic indicators for La Plata County (as well as surrounding counties) on this Web page.
Walker_d@fortlewis.eduDeborah Walker is associate professor of economics and co-director of the Office of Economic Analysis and Business Research at Fort Lewis College.