As the national unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, Rim Country’s numbers appear to have begun to inch downward.
In August, Payson’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from a July high of 8.4 percent.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while for recovery,” said Ken Volz, executive director of the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation.
Payson’s economy is heavily reliant on small businesses, which have a small margin for error, he said.
With a fledgling recovery under way, efforts to recruit more industry to Rim Country could gain momentum.
Volz and other local government leaders are working to diversify the economy. A summit for next month is planned to discuss the ongoing effort.
Around Gila County, unemployment rates reached a year-to-date peak in July, although August figures remained higher than in June. August’s unemployment figures in Pine totaled 5.8 percent, and 5.2 percent in Strawberry, according to the Arizona Department of Commerce.
The countywide figure of 10.7 percent unemployed compared to 9.3 percent statewide. Nationally, unemployment rates reached 9.7 in August, up from 9.4 in July. In September, ranks of unemployed swelled to 9.8 percent. September figures were unavailable for Arizona.
Recently, the Central Arizona Association of Governments received a $100,000 grant for Gila County leaders to examine possibilities for diversifying the economy. On Nov. 10, local leaders will meet to discuss the effort, which will include an inventory of threats and opportunities, along with a look at best-fit industries.
Results from the so-called Employment Center Study could help attract federal funding, and should finish by the first of January. “Centers” are clusters of businesses with a focus on a particular industry, such as the existing medical services area surrounding the hospital.
Possible new industries could focus on research and development, renewable energy or technology. “We don’t want just any old business here,” said Volz.
And opportunities like the recent land exchange near the Payson Airport, which created 78 acres for developing industry, could offer room for new firms.
Ultimately, Volz hopes that enticing well-paying jobs to Rim Country will create jobs for the young and ambitious to stay. “They want to stay here, come back here,” Volz said. “They can’t come back because there’s nothing here for them.”