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New economic figures a mixed bag for Coos County

Special to the Union Leader

September 30. 2012 11:46PM

BERLIN - The number of workers who were unemployed in Coos County in August is nearly unchanged from a year ago, but the unemployment rate, on a year-to-year basis, is up.

Recently released figures from the state Economic and Labor Information Bureau set the county's unemployment rate at 7.1 percent. In August 2011, the county's unemployment rate was 6.8 percent.

In the Berlin area, the August 2012 rate was 8.3 percent. Those figures compare favorably with January, when the Berlin rate was 9.4 percent. In January, the bureau reported 660 people were out of work and looking for a job; in August that figure was 630.

Mark Belanger, director of the Berlin office of New Hampshire Works, said Friday that while the unemployment numbers were better (from earlier in 2012), 'This is more likely the effects of seasonal employment, such as construction and hospitality-related work.'

In August 2011, the Berlin rate was 8.4 percent. This year, two large employers, Isaacson Structural Steel and Car Freshner, are no longer in business in Berlin, but the federal prison has been hiring, and some workers have found work at the Burgess BioPower construction site.

In the Colebrook area, the rate was 6.5 percent in August, compared to 8.1 percent in January. One of the region's largest employers in upper Coos County, Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, remains closed while the new owners work on getting financing for a multimillion dollar renovation project.

'I have serious concerns about this winter,' Belanger said. 'With the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) due to expire at the end of 2012, we will have many people left without any additional benefits when it's time to heat their homes.'

Belanger said the combination of no jobs, no benefits, and limited fuel assistance makes for a scary situation.

He said that while the office does not track where laidoff workers have found jobs, his staff, which works with job-seekers, tell him that 'many have found jobs that required them to accept lower pay, relocate, or to travel long distances.'

Despite the large layoffs, the county's labor force has grown over the past year, from 16,550 in August 2011 to 16,660 this August.

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