Jobless rate remains below national level

Friday, September 3, 2004

For the first few months of the year, unemployment held steady in Red Willow County, hovering near the 2 percent level. With a work force of more than 6,500 people, that meant around 140 job-seekers in the county were receiving unemployment benefits.

But Red Willow's jobless rate spiked in mid-summer, climbing to 3.6 percent following the closing of the Sitel call center. The telemarketer had 90 employees, a number of whom had difficulty finding other, immediate job openings.

As time passes, however, there are signs that the job situation is improving and -- as a result -- the unemployment rate is edging downward in Red Willow and the other counties of Southwest Nebraska.

Don Hopkins, manager of the Work Force Development office in McCook, said a couple of things are happening which are helping the job picture. First, when students return to school they leave behind summer jobs, creating opportunities for other members of the work force. And, second, construction activity has remained at a brisk level, creating the continuing need for workers.

The demand for employees is also shown by the "help wanted" ads in the Gazette. In Wednesday's issue, 25 help wanted ads appeared, with several seeking more than one employee. The employers' needs were varied, including openings for a creative design specialist, a clinical therapist, an administrative assistant and a store manager, as well as ones for cooks, waitresses, truck drivers, farm and ranch help, retail clerks, nurse's aides, carpenters and other positions in the building trades.

In addition to checking newspaper ads, job seekers are encouraged to keep in touch with the Work Force Development office. Hopkins says there are 30 current openings, and he also can refer potential employees to industries in need of employees. For example, Hopkins said those seeking railroad jobs can apply on-lines with Burlington Northern-Santa Fe and Union Pacific. Part of the job slack is also being taken up by CRT, which has moved into the space formerly occupied by Sitel.

The goal is to find jobs for all willing and able to work. To get help for the quest, those looking for employment can stop by the Workforce Development office at 220 West First Street in McCook, or call 308-345-8470 for information.

When change takes place -- such as the Sitel closing -- it takes time to adjust. Even at 3.6 percent, Red Willow County's jobless rate is below the national unemployment percentage. But we need to do better ... and there are signs that, already, the job picture is beginning to improve in Red Willow County.

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