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Local unemployment rates fall in February

4/5/2013

By RUTH CAMPBELL

By RUTH CAMPBELL

rcampbell@gctelegram.com

Unemployment in Finney County and Garden City declined in February compared to January and was better than the state rate, according to figures released March 29.

Finney County's February jobless rate was 4.6 percent for and Garden City's was 5 percent.

In January, the county's rate was 5 percent and the city's 5.4 percent. In December 2012, Finney County's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent and Garden City's, 4.7 percent.

Kansas' February unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, 6.2 percent in January and 5.3 percent in December, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.

"Many areas in the state experience peak unemployment in January. This is a seasonal change due to temporary retail workers being laid off following the holidays, and in many cases, the construction industry slows due to winter weather," said Senior Labor Economist Tyler Tenbrink said in an email to The Telegram. "As the February estimates indicate, the unemployment rate has come down in February."

Garden City has a slightly higher concentration of unemployed than does Finney County due to the size of the labor force in those areas, according to the state Labor Department.

"This is a common distinction between cities and areas that include a city and the surrounding rural areas," Tenbrink said. "For example, the unemployment rate in the Wichita MSA (metropolitan statistical area) (Butler, Harvey, Sedgwick and Sumner counties) is 6.5 percent. The unemployment rate in the city of Wichita is 7.2 percent. One reason for this is the survey used to determine the unemployment rate (the household survey) measures the unemployed at their place of residence, rather than their work place. Therefore, the unemployment rate in the city excludes the segment of the population that lives in suburbs outside of the city limits. In many cases, these areas have much lower unemployment than the city and inner city."

From what she hears, Finney County Economic Development Corp. President Lona DuVall said the strongest demand among employers is for commercial driver's license drivers and licensed welders. Statewide, she's heard there are upwards of 1,000 CDL jobs open at any given time.

At the same time, she noted that many companies have "given up" on looking for employees here.

DuVall noted there are positions out there, even if they aren't in someone's degree field.

"There are opportunities here, if you're willing to get the training," DuVall said. State and federal retraining dollars are also available, DuVall said.

She added that welding and CDL courses are pretty short, and although those who complete the classes may not make top dollar at first, they may fairly quickly. The positions can be transitional, meaning job-seekers may have to go where the job is, however, there are positions here with existing businesses, such as tank and trailer manufacturers.

One thing DuVall has been pleased about is in the past couple of years, Gov. Sam Brownback has come out for technical education, which is something students can use in their careers, or fall back on.

"Out here, we are traditionally a blue-collar workforce," DuVall said. "There's nothing wrong with that, It's not Silicon Valley ... It is what it is. We're a get-your-hands-dirty, build it kind of area, so technical certificates and skills are real important out here."

In contrast to the city, county and state, the nation's unemployment rate for February was 8.1 percent.

"Our unemployment rate didn't get as high. We were kind of insulated a little bit from the recession," Tenbrink said in an interview. "We don't have a great deal of finance or real estate growth in the state, so when that went away, Kansas wasn't as affected as other states," like Nevada, which had a housing bubble.

Tenbrink said agriculture and livestock prices have been high the past couple of years.

"Prices in Kansas never really got that high, so there wasn't as much of a bubble. Part of that insulation is our agricultural sector.

That doesn't follow the usual trend of the business cycle, so that helps," Tenbrink said.

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