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County's jobless rate little changed

Local manufacturing and retail thrived in December, providing additional jobs even as wet weather began hitting construction.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, Jackson County logged a 5.1 percent unemployment rate for December. That's a smidgen above the 5.0 percent jobless rate in November and a full percent below December 2004's 6.1 percent.

Oregon reported a 5.5 percent December jobless rate and the national figure was 4.7 percent.

During the previous 12 months, Jackson County payroll employment increased by 3,060, a 3.8 percent gain compared to Oregon 3.5 percent rate.

Continued foul weather could curtail employment growth from fast-food providers to heavy equipment operators.

— It's not conducive to (housing) framers and finishers, but they'll go slogging through the mud, said LTM marketing Vice President Don Skundrick. But it's too wet for concrete.

That's a big turnaround from last year when dry weather was a boon to builders and construction companies.

We didn't have that seasonal drop off, because there was so much pent-up demand, then we took a hit in the spring when it started raining, said Skundrick, whose company is a dominant player in the region's paving, concrete and aggregate activity. This year, starting around Thanksgiving, it's just been miserable. You still see folks out working, but it's just not as efficient. On some jobs, you can't even get started, especially when you are digging in the dirt, which is most of what we do. You don't want to disturb soil because you end up with a mess of mud.

In December, construction employment fell by 80 jobs, erasing 16 percent of the jobs added during 2005, said regional economist Guy Tauer. Building permits slowed for the first 11 months of the year to 1,759 issued, compared to 1,917 through November 2004.

Manufacturing employment rose in December by 140 jobs, with wood products manufacturing accounting for 60 additional jobs. Retail trade posted the largest monthly gain in employment, up by 200 positions. Tauer said the industry has accounted for nearly half of the county's new jobs during the past 12 months, a gain of 1,530 over that period.

Inclement weather is often good news for snow-sport related businesses. As a result, employment in the leisure and hospitality sector rose by 140 jobs in December. Such businesses have added 400 jobs over the year.

December was the fourth straight month Jackson County's civilian labor force surpassed the 100,000 mark in 2005. The figure was exceeded just once in the first eight months after cresting the 100,000 level for the first time in April 2004.

All other things being equal, we should remain in that 100,000 range, or slightly above, said Tauer.

Although he forecasts a typical softening during the first quarter, barring a catastrophic event, Tauer doesn't see a future labor force decline.

He predicted other retailers will absorb those workers who lose their jobs when Mervyn's closes its Rogue Valley Mall store in March.

I would imagine those people have transferable skills and the retail sector has shown remarkable growth in this area, Tauer said. There were even new stores (Coldwater Creek and Chico's) built at the mall in the last year. I don't really see an industry downturn where workers have to retrain and learn new skills to be competitive. If someone has customer skills or cashier skills, there are a lot of opportunities in this region.

Among sectors showing job growth during the past 12-month cycle are: manufacturing, picking up additional hires; professional and business services, netting 130 new positions; and health care and social assistance, which grew by 440 jobs. Natural resources and mining dropped 50 positions, while education-related employment declined by 170.

Josephine County payroll employment fell by 100 last month, but was up by 910 jobs from December 2004. Josephine County's unemployment rate edged up to 6.3 from 6.2 percent in November.

Year-to-date residential building permit data from the U.S. Census Bureau show 2005 on track to exceed 2004's robust numbers. There were 799 residential-unit permits issued through November 2005, up from 708 during the same period in 2004.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail County's jobless rate little changed"business@mailtribune.com.