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Economy & Economic Development  December 30, 2010

Jobs could pick up in second half of year

News on the employment front in Northern Colorado was mostly disappointing in 2010 as the unemployment rate increased, but things may be looking up for 2011.

“For the first six months of next year, I think we’re going to see this slow, drip, drip, drip kind of recovery,´ said Martin Shields, associate professor of economics at Colorado State University. “But by the second half of 2011, the recovery should be under way.”

The federal government’s stimulus packages promised to be “bridge” funding until the economy started rebounding. That funding is coming to an end, though, and the country and Northern Colorado have yet to see an improvement in unemployment rates.

In November, Larimer County’s unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, up from 6.9 percent in October and 6.1 percent last year. Weld County’s rate was 9.6 percent in November, also an increase over October’s 9 percent rate and 8 percent last year.

Statewide, the unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in November. Nationally, it was 9.8 percent.

It was a busy year at the Larimer County Workforce Center, where those receiving unemployment insurance must register. The center provides workshops and resources for jobseekers.

The number of people who used the center was down slightly compared to 2009. Unemployment claimants were also down, and the number of job listings filed at the center were up compared to last year.

“Jobs do seem to be coming back, but it’s very sporadic,´ said Maureen Harter, development director at the Workforce Center. “Wages are definitely down. People are starting to return to work, but they’re not returning to the same wages.”

But compared to the rest of the nation and Colorado, things in Larimer County look pretty good, said Lew Wymisner, assistant director of the Workforce Center.

“We’ve had a diversified economy in Larimer County for the past 25 years,” Wymisner said. “We’re not a steel town like Pittsburgh. We can take a hit in one sector and not have it devastate us.”

Among Larimer County’s largest business sectors, manufacturing has been affected the most by the recession. Some of those jobs are coming back, though, at companies like OtterBox, which manufactures protective covers for handheld technology. The 200-employee company hired about a third of its workforce this year alone.

Better times ahead

Other indicators also point to better times ahead – although progress is slow. 

“It used to be that for every good report about jobs or the economy, we’d get a bad report,” Shields said. “Now there are two good reports for every bad one.”

The average person starts to feel the effects of the recession lifting when those good reports come at work – orders start to increase, managers say they are feeling good about the future and furloughs become a thing of the past. But the key to that is an increase in consumer confidence.

“Seventy percent of the economy is individuals consuming,” Shields said. “But you can’t spend unless you have a job.”

Future job growth won’t likely come from large companies adding positions or big employers moving into the region. The key to economic recovery is small business, Harter said. In 2008, 76.6 percent of businesses in Larimer County had fewer than 10 employees, Harter said.

“People tend to look at the larger employers as the source of job growth,” she said. “But people really need to be looking at small businesses.”

Shields agrees.

“The real recovery is going to be a bunch of little companies adding a few people at a time,” Shields said. “It will be the young entrepreneurials, not necessarily the flower shops or the restaurants. The wonder case here in Fort Collins has been OtterBox. The question is, ‘Who is going to be the next OtterBox?'”

News on the employment front in Northern Colorado was mostly disappointing in 2010 as the unemployment rate increased, but things may be looking up for 2011.

“For the first six months of next year, I think we’re going to see this slow, drip, drip, drip kind of recovery,´ said Martin Shields, associate professor of economics at Colorado State University. “But by the second half of 2011, the recovery should be under way.”

The federal government’s stimulus packages promised to be “bridge” funding until the economy started rebounding. That funding is coming to an end, though, and the country and Northern Colorado…

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