Diversification pays off in Garfield County
Garfield County appears better poised for economic recovery than its two closest resort neighbors, Pitkin and Eagle counties.
That’s according to a workforce data update presented to the Garfield County commissioners several weeks ago by Jessica Valand, regional director for workforce development for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
New unemployment claims as percent of labor force
For the five weeks ending April 11, new unemployment claims in Garfield County totaled 9.76% of the 32,511-person labor force. Claims in Eagle County were significantly higher, at 15.2% of its 37,743-person labor force; and nearly double in Pitkin County at 18.27% of its much-smaller 11,109-person labor force.
For the eight weeks ending May 2, the comparison between the counties is quite similar, with Garfield County at 14.73%, Eagle at 22.18% and Pitkin nearly double at 28.82%.
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Valand attributed the lower percentage of claims in Garfield County to fewer workers in the hospitality industry.
“Diversification is a good thing,” she said.
Number of tourism workers
Employment data from 2019 shows Eagle County having roughly three times more leisure and hospitality workers than Garfield County, with a similar-sized labor force. Pitkin County had about one-third more leisure and hospitality workers than Garfield County, with a labor force about one-third the size of Garfield County.
Garfield County’s percentage of hospitality workers is “higher than the rest of the state but lower than the region,” Valand said.
Percent of claims by industry sector
To illustrate how much influence tourism had on unemployment claims for the five weeks ending April 11, roughly 47% of claims by industry sector were in leisure and hospitality.
That’s for the five-county Rural Resort Sub-Area of the Northwest Colorado Workforce Area. Lake and Summit are the other two Rural Resort counties.
The next highest group was trade, transportation and utilities at roughly 11% of claims by industry sector. Employment numbers in that sector for 2019 very closely follow the labor force, with Eagle County slightly ahead of Garfield County, and Pitkin County at about one-third the number of employees. So this group would not contribute to the disparity in unemployment claims among counties.
The presentation also showed what percentage of Garfield County’s revenue comes from various base industries.
“‘Basic Industries’ are responsible for existence of the local economy as they bring in outside dollars to the community,” according to a base analysis summary provided by Valand.
The largest base industry at 28% is regional service, which includes construction, communications, trade and transportation, professional and business, finance and insurance, and education and health. Tourism brought in the second-most revenue at 18%.
In comparison, tourism brings in as much revenue in Eagle and Pitkin counties as the top three base industries in Garfield County.
“60% of revenue in Eagle and Pitkin counties is from tourism, while it’s only 18% in Garfield County,” Valand said.
The data show Garfield County’s lack of dependence on a single base industry.
“Garfield County has more diversification than many other places on the West Slope,” Valand said.
That diversification may pay off as the economy starts up again after the COVID lockdown.
“Garfield County relative to Eagle and Pitkin counties is in arguably a better position to recover,” Valand said.
Declining new unemployment claims
The number of new unemployment claims by week in Garfield County has been declining since a high of 1,160 on the week ending March 28. That number is more than 18 times higher than the week with the most claims filed in 2019.
New claims dropped each of the following five weeks, with 283 on the week ending May 2.