Merrier - Evidence from the empirical to the anecdotal points to an improved economy

Dec 16, 2012 Steve Peck, Publisher

Are things looking up, just in time for Christmas? At least three signs point to that conclusion.

First, the employment scene in Fremont County looks better than it has in years. During the national election the various factions sometimes painted a confusing picture of what a lower unemployment rate means, whether the rate itself is the best indicator of the job market, and whether the actual percentage might have been manipulated for political gain.

We have no such confusion here. Across every statistical category, the numbers coincide to paint an unequivocal portrait of a much-improved job market.

Our county's economy is affected significantly by agriculture and construction hiring, along with some tourism, so simply glancing at the data in a particular month can produce an inaccurate snapshot. Look at neighboring Teton County, whose jobless figures for October (these are the newest figures available) are alarming in isolation, or to an analyst who doesn't understand Teton County's tourism economy.

It's commonplace for seasonal workers to hang around Jackson for another few weeks after the summer tourism season winds down in the town and nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. Many of these workers file for unemployment while they are there in order to pick up a few bucks before making winter plans, which often involve leaving the state. No one who knows Wyoming thinks Teton is a high-unemployment county, but if you looked at October and only October, that's the impression you would get.

What is important is the trend from month to month, season to season, and year to year. Our trend has been up -- more workers, more jobs, fewer jobless, lower unemployment rate compared to the previous month and the previous year. No hand-wringing "analysis" is needed.

On a more specific level, developments at Riverton Regional Airport, the county's only commercial air travel facility, are encouraging. Passenger boardings have been steady and consistent -- not spectacular, but solid. They are good enough, in fact, that our lone airline, Great Lakes, has decided to return its larger and faster aircraft to our airport for more flights.

An airline as cost- and passenger-conscious as Great Lakes, which has filed for bankruptcy in the past and operates about as close to the fiscal bone as you can get, wouldn't bring the bigger plane in if it didn't believe our market warranted it. There are fewer of the Brasilia planes than the smaller Beech 1900s, and Great Lakes is judicious about where they are deployed.

Consistent air travel is a strong economic indicator, and we demonstrate exactly that. Now, here's a bit of boosterism: Fly locally when you can. Weigh your gasoline, food, lodging and automobile wear and tear as you decide whether to drive to Casper, Salt Lake City or Denver to save on airfare. And don't assume your time is worth nothing. It isn't.

If Riverton Regional is getting the Brasilia for a few flights a week, it's because the operators of Great Lakes think our air travel community can support it. Let's prove them right.

Finally, the anecdotal evidence of an improved economy is everywhere. You're not likely to go more than a couple of blocks in either Lander or Riverton without seeing a construction crew at work, a new garage, house or business addition taking shape, a new car or piece of equipment gleaming in the driveway, or a "help-wanted" sign in the window.

On the streets, it's tough to find a parking place. Stores which laid off cashiers and clerks because of a business slowdown now see customers waiting in line again. Motel rooms are more scarce, and you can't count on walking into a restaurant and being seated immediately.

Because of our central location and versatile facilities, we continue to be a choice site for any number of school festivals and tournaments, business conferences and government workshops. Those visitors will help our newly passed optional 1 percent sales tax generate more money, and faster. We'll all put it to use in making our communities better places to live.

These are nice developments to observe and quantify any time of year. Coming as they do in the heart of the holiday season ought to make us all a little merrier. -- Steven R. Peck

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