FARMINGTON — Unemployment in San Juan County rose slightly in March to 6.9 percent, up from 6.8 percent in February, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions reported Friday.
But the jobs report did contain some positive news. Employment rose 400 jobs for the month, including 300 jobs in the private sector, according to a survey of employers. Sometimes, the unemployment rate and overall employment can both rise. That happens when the overall workforce grows.
The state agency counted 3,746 unemployed San Juan County residents in March.
The changes were minor. Employment rose 32 persons in a survey of households, while unemployment rose by 53 residents.
Tracy Shaleen, a Department of Workforce Solutions economist, called the employment situation "essentially unchanged over the month."
Ray Hagerman, chief executive of Four Corners Economic Development, cautioned against placing too much importance in a small increase in the unemployment rate.
"That is so unnoticeable, that can be explained away probably through margin of error," he said.
The increase in jobs between February and March came from 200 positions in goods-producing industries and another 200 jobs in the service sector.
Taking a longer view, the most pronounced trend in the San Juan County labor market is a steady decline in jobs in "goods-producing industries." Oil and gas and coal mining jobs fall in that category.
San Juan County lost 600 jobs in goods-producing industries during the 12 months ending in March. The drop is partly due to a strong month in March 2012, Shaleen said.
"All of that is compared to relatively stronger employment estimates throughout the second half of 2011 and most of 2012," he said.
Local business leaders are trying to attract companies from health care, tourism and other industries to buffer the economy from the ups and downs of the energy industries.
Last week, Four Corners Economic Development and other groups announced plans to expand workforce testing in San Juan County through a program called Skill Ready.
"A lot of the initiatives that we're beginning to work on will help address unemployment," Hagerman said. "If nothing else, I think attacking workforce development through the Skill Ready program is going to help a great deal."
Chuck Slothower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter @DTChuck.