Cattaraugus County is one of only three Western New York counties that had the same number of workers in jobs last month as in October 2016 — 31,800.

Wyoming and Genesee counties also maintained job numbers from last October.

Allegany, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara and Orleans all reported lower compared job numbers, according to the latest state Labor Department report.

“The labor force has been holding steady over the past year in Cattaraugus County,” said John Slenker, labor market analyst with the state Labor Department’s Buffalo office.

The Southern Tier’s labor force, like across most of Upstate New York, is shrinking along with the population. The working age population is also declining, Slenker pointed out.

Much of the Upstate region’s unemployment now consists of people between jobs, he said, and new jobs are often restricted by a trained workforce.

Looking at Southern Tier counties from Chautauqua to Chemung, the unemployment rate ranged from 5 percent to 5.9 percent in September. The state’s unemployment rate for September was 4.7 percent.

“Some counties are better off than others, but for the most part, the economy is doing fairly well,” Slenker said.

Cattaraugus County’s unemployment rate in September was 5.3 percent, or about 1,800 unemployed, as compared to 5.6 percent in September 2016. In October, the rate dropped to further to 5.2 percent.

Since the Great Recession, Cattaraugus County’s unemployment rate has dropped more than 3 points. It has declined steadily since 2011 and 2012 when it was 8.8 percent. It dropped to 8.4 percent in 2013, 7 percent in 2014, 6.3 percent in 2015 and 5.9 percent in 2016.

Allegany County’s unemployment rate has followed a similar course from 8.8 percent in 2011 to 8.3 percent in 2012, 7.5 percent in 2013, 6.2 percent in 2014, 6.5 percent in 2015 and 6.2 percent in 2016.

The state Labor Department’s October jobs report issued Nov. 21 showed Allegany County with 16,000 jobs, a drop of 100 from the October 2016 report.

Allegany County’s September unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, or about 1,100 people. It increased to 5.5 percent in October.

While Cattaraugus and Allegany counties face a continuing challenge of declining populations, both have the ability to train people for jobs that become available — two- and four-year colleges and universities, BOCES and other training programs, Slenker said.

In addition, the state has invested in population centers in the region with redevelopment in cities like Olean and Jamestown. The investments are designed to make the cities more attractive to younger workers. It’s all about attracting and retaining a labor force.

“Businesses are looking for workers,” Slenker said. In some cases, “they are butting up against a labor shortage. Right now is a good time if you have the skills business needs or you need to get training.”

In the future, “labor force issues are going to be paramount in trying to retain and increase population,” Slenker said.

“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” he said. Time is one of the ingredients that leads to new jobs. The others are land, labor and capital.

How does this area capture those high-skilled jobs of the future? By recognizing the challenges and doing something, Slenker said.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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